The most cherished recollection of Wade Graham‘s rugby league career? He prizes the moment when the final whistle blew in the 2016 Grand Final. The fiercest competitor he’d battled alongside? The title lands with Sharks legend Paul Gallen. His teammates that brought laughter? The winners are an even tie between James Maloney, James Segeyaro and Jason Bukuya.
The hardest blow he had ever received? The spectre of Frank Pritchard’s hit in 2011 continues to haunt him. Graham remarked, “Had Franky done that today, he would have copped ten weeks.”
This Friday evening, Graham will be greeted with cheers and applause as he steps onto the PointsBet Stadium field, three days post his intimate announcement to a select group of family and friends of his upcoming retirement from the NRL at this season’s close.
The 32-year-old was weighing his options on a flight from Perth to Sydney just last week. However, once he had reached Sydney, he finalised his decision and found peace with it. A potential move to the Super League is not entirely dismissed – the allure of Catalans Dragons in the South of France still tugs. Nonetheless, Graham has his gaze set on a future in media engagement, promising in its appeal.
For now, Graham’s primary aim is to add two more points against an underrated Gold Coast team and to push the Sharks to the summit. He shared, “I only decided to retire this week after there was talk about having a dinner for my 250th – all my friends and family and ‘Flanno’ [premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan] and past players were there, so it was the perfect opportunity to get on stage, look everyone in the eye and thank them for what they had done for me.”
His retirement was a decision that came without any external consultation. “I only spoke to my partner about the decision. I didn’t speak to anyone else or any other player for any validation. I was happy with the decision in the end.”
Interesting to note that Graham had a potential transfer to South Sydney for the 2015 season on the horizon, the very season following the Bunnies‘ league triumph. Yet, he chose loyalty to Cronulla and was rewarded with a Grand Final victory two years later. Graham became the third Shark player to break the 250-game milestone last weekend, following Gallen and Andrew Ettingshausen.
Graham’s playing prowess saw him successfully transition from a one-time Penrith playmaker into the forwards. He earned the admiration of fans and peers with his grit and dedication. He proudly represented NSW and Australia, earning plaudits from unlikely quarters such as former Prime Minister and resolute Sharks enthusiast, Scott Morrison, who named Graham as his favourite player.
Cronulla’s coach, Craig Fitzgibbon, showered praise on him last Thursday, stating, “The one premiership this club has won, he was involved with that and was a huge part of that season and his whole 13 years here.” Fitzgibbon even added, “It’d be hard to think that he hasn’t been one of the club’s most important recruits in its history.”