James Graham might have won most of the individual awards that matter in England last season, but he knows that his battle to establish his international credentials begins on Sunday, when he faces Australia for the first time.
The St Helens prop lost his chance of representing Great Britain in the Tri-Nations two years ago when he badly cut his hand during Saints' post-Grand Final celebrations.
Now a more mature 23, he starts to make up for lost time in the World Cup clash here. "It's a challenge, but one I'm looking forward to and relishing," he said. "If you want to be rated, you have to do it against Australia."
One theory Graham does not buy into is the one that says that Australia's starting front-rowers, Steven Price and Petero Civoniceva, both the wrong side of 30, are over the hill and waiting to be knocked over by a new generation of props.
"Age is just a number," Graham said. "They didn't exactly play like old men against New Zealand. They are still top quality front-rowers and I will be treating them with respect." Graham, who won the Man of Steel and Rugby League Writers' Player of the Year titles last season, is again expected to start ahead of Adrian Morley, who will be on the bench. "He hasn't played much for a while and, although I suppose it's some sort of compliment to me, it's great to have him there waiting to come into the game."
The vigour of forwards like Graham, Morley and the widely respected England captain, Jamie Peacock, is one reason why the Australian coach, Ricky Stuart, is expecting a far tougher examination than that predicted by some of his more complacent fellow-countrymen.
The Aussie press and public were deeply unimpressed by England's effort against Papua New Guinea on Saturday, but Stuart says that will be no guide to events at the Telstra Dome. "I think it will be a very different match," he said. "England will make it a traditional Test match. When you look at the experience of forwards like Adrian Morley, that kind of passionate commitment to wearing the shirt will spread through the team. They have a lot of confrontational type of footballers."
The World Cup's organisers are distinctly twitchy over how confrontational the football could become in Penrith tonight, when Tonga face their traditional island rivals from Samoa. A win for Tonga will take them into the semi-final qualifier, while a victory for Samoa will leave them needing a win over Ireland to get a step further along the way. There are big populations from both nations in Sydney's western suburbs and there will be extra police on duty in Penrith tonight.Reuse content