Super League Man of Steel James Graham is ready to answer England's call in Saturday's World Cup semi-final against New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium. The St Helens prop was wrapped in cotton wool when the sides met in their final pool match last Saturday and, although coach Tony Smith has yet to finalise his line-up, Graham will be expected to lead England's bid for a place in the World Cup final.
England are desperately in need of a boost after they frittered away a 24-8 lead to go down 36-24 to the Kiwis in Newcastle, but Graham insists they are primed to bounce back. "I just think it's important that we stick together as a team," he said. "Whatever the 17 that Tony decides to pick, we've got to really concentrate on doing a job. Obviously, they'll be pretty confident because they've got players to come in as well. We've been put down by the press and the general public – everyone has the right to their opinion – but we can't allow ourselves to get dragged down."
Graham, 23, was on the losing side for the first time in his senior international career when England were thumped 52-4 by Australia in Melbourne and cannot wait to get back out on the field and help make amends. "Obviously, Tony had his reasons for not playing me last Saturday," he said. "I want to play in every game but Tony decides what is best for the team. I'm just a young kid and maybe what I think is not what is best for the team in the long run. He's been there and done it and I'm happy to do whatever he wants me to do."
Smith appeared to throw up a smokescreen ahead of Saturday's game by naming an initial squad that excluded Ade Gardner and Danny McGuire. St Helens winger Gardner and Leeds stand-off McGuire were both expected to return after being rested for last Saturday's dress rehearsal. But they were conspicuous by their absence when England met the World Cup obligations yesterday by naming a 19-man squad. Media manager Andrew Whitelam said the management were still monitoring certain players and the squad could change before Saturday.
England are thought to have injury doubts over full-back Paul Wellens and stand-off Leon Pryce, while New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney declined to name his team, although World Cup organisers expect a Kiwis squad today.
England's 19-man squad (v New Zealand, Sat): P Wellens (St Helens), M Calderwood (Wigan), M Gleeson (Warrington), K Senior, L Smith (both Leeds), L Pryce (St Helens), R Burrow (Leeds), A Morley (Warrington), M Higham (Wigan), J Peacock (capt), G Ellis (both Leeds), J Jones-Buchanan, R Purdham (both Harlequins), J Graham (St Helens), B Westwood (Warrington), J Roby (St Helens), K Sinfield (Leeds), J Wilkin (St Helens), G Hock (Wigan).