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Great Britain captain James Graham.

On the eve of James Graham playing his 50th Test, Great Britain coach Wayne Bennett declared the Dragons prop one of the best captains he's worked with.

In a coaching career that's spanned more than three decades, Bennett has mentored some of the game's greatest leaders at club, state and international level.

"He's right up the top with the best of them," Bennett said of Graham heading into Saturday night's Test match at Tonga at Waikato Stadium.

"He's very passionate, very good and it's a pleasure to have him.

"Sam [Burgess] is not here, Sean O'Loughlin's not here, but the team won't miss a beat with James."

But despite the significance of the achievement – with Graham becoming just the eighth player in history to reach 50 Test appearances, and only the fourth Brit to do it – Bennett said there won't be any fanfare.  

James Graham training with Great Britain.
James Graham training with Great Britain. ©

"That just distracts you, all that stuff," Bennett said.

"He knows how important it is tomorrow night, he knows what it means to him.

"50 Test matches for England and Great Britain is quite a remarkable achievement, very few have done it.

"But at the same time all the noise and fuss about it, making a big deal about it, it just distracts everybody about what they have got to do.

"We don't want to do that. [James] is a great team player and that's how he thinks, and I think the same way."

It's a privilege to have that badge on your chest again

James Graham on the return of the Lions

The game at Waikato Stadium will be the first time Great Britain have taken the field in 12 years.

Graham, who played five times for Great Britain between 2006-07, said the Tonga match will be a chance for many of his teammates to realise a lifelong dream.  

"The Lions is an iconic brand ... It's a privilege to have that badge on your chest again," Graham said.

"When you're young and you're sort of dreaming about where your future might take you, the pinnacle of our sport for a lot of these lads was playing for Great Britain.

"It means a lot to our fans, especially that older generation that grew up watching Great Britain."

Ten players who took the field for England in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup semi-final win over Tonga will line up for Great Britain on Saturday night.

Graham, who is among that surviving group, said for those players there are valuable lessons to lean on from that game two years ago. One of them is playing in front of boisterous Tonga fans.

"That game, the atmosphere itself is something that we will all learn from, we are not going to be surprised by that," Graham said.

"Absolutely [the best atmosphere I've experienced], bar none, easy. They didn't stop singing the whole time.

"We are going to have to play close to our best to win. We know what this team is capable of that we are coming up against."

Meanwhile, Bennett said his new-look spine – which includes Australia-born fullback Lachlan Coote and halfback Jackson Hastings – has progressed well at training this week.

"They'll only get better. It is a new-look group of players there, but they are all experienced and good players," Bennett said.

"They were pretty good [Friday], been pretty good all week, so I think there's a lot of confidence among them."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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