Graham, 25, was promoted to captain following the withdrawal of Adrian Morley after the Prop suffered a ruptured bicep during England’s 18-all draw with the New Zealand Maori in Auckland last Saturday. Morley himself had been handed the captain’s armband after Jamie Peacock suffered a season-ending knee injury playing for Leeds Rhinos last month.
“It’s a great honour and I deeply proud that I have this chance,” said Graham. “In a perfect world I’d love to be out there on Saturday playing alongside JP and Moz but I can’t do anything about that.
“When Steve McNamara offered me the captaincy I had no hesitation in saying yes. It came as a surprise but hopefully I can reward his judgment with some good performances on the field.”
Although Graham has never before captained his club, he has previous experience as captain of the England Academy team that completed a historic series victory over the Australian Schoolboys in Australia in 2004 and is renowned as one of the most vocal communicators in Super League, a trait of his game he intends to retain as captain.
“When you talk as much as I do both on the field and in the dressing room people often have little choice but to listen!” he said. “I’d like to think that some of stuff I say will have a positive influence on those around me, especially the younger players who haven’t played at international level before.
“I don’t think the responsibility is going to change me as a player. Certainly, at the moment my focus isn’t on being England captain, it’s on winningRugby League game against the Kiwis on Saturday so it hasn’t really sunk in yet, perhaps it’s one of the honours that only sink in once you’ve retired.”
England coach Steve McNamara said he was delighted that Graham had accepted the captaincy and is confident he will be the right man for the job.
“James was one of a number of outstanding candidates for the position and I am delighted he is the new England captain,” said McNamara. “The natural leadership skills that he shows both on the field and on the training ground make him the ideal replacement for the unfortunate Adrian Morley.
“Without a doubt James has been one of the most consistent and outstanding performers both in Engage Super League and on the international stage. It is those qualities plus his drive and enthusiasm that will make James Graham a very good and successful captain of the England Rugby League team.”
The match will also be shown on Sky Sports 1 at 11.00am.