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Halatau hails Bulldogs prop Graham

Veteran utility Dene Halatau says it's no coincidence Canterbury have recaptured their form of last season since James Graham was restored to the side after suspension.
Halatau hails Bulldogs prop Graham
by AAP

By Ian McCullough

SYDNEY, July 6 AAP - Veteran utility Dene Halatau says it's no coincidence Canterbury have recaptured their form of last season since James Graham was restored to the side after suspension.

Graham was slugged with a 12-game ban after being found guilty of biting Billy Slater's ear in last year's grand final loss to Melbourne and in his absence the Bulldogs lost five of their opening seven matches.

The English prop's first game back after his long stint on the sidelines saw Des Hasler's side chalk up a 40-4 win over the Wests Tigers and they've since tasted defeat in only two of their last eight matches and put themselves back in finals contention.

Graham's value to his team was exemplified by the 20-18 loss to the Sydney Roosters two weeks ago when he was forced out of the game in the first half after being poleaxed by a Dylan Napa shoulder charge.

Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis called Graham the best forward in the NRL after that game and Halatau said he's one of the finest he's played alongside.

"I think he's proved since moving from England that he's definitely one of the best props in the world," Halatau told AAP.

"I don't think it's any secret that we missed him when he was suspended, but what team wouldn't?

"He's up there with the Paul Gallens and the Matt Scotts and we've certainly picked up since he came back into the team."

Graham will make a rare start for Bulldogs against Newcastle in Mackay on Sunday with Hasler normally preferring to use the former England skipper as an impact player off the bench.

A win over the eighth-placed Knights could see Canterbury, who sit one place above them, edge closer to a top-four spot.

England coach Steve McNamara who's in Australia catching up with his NRL-based players, said Graham's game has gone up a level since linking up with Hasler.

McNamara also believes the enforced spell on the sidelines following the Slater incident has been a blessing in disguise.

"It wasn't good what happened and the headlines it created," McNamara told AAP.

"But on the other hand, James has probably never had such a long time out of the game and it allowed him to get his body 100 per cent.

"He has been playing week in week out for nearly 10 years in Super League and also with England.

"He's done the same out here with the Bulldogs and the kid has never really had a proper break.

"He's now as fit as he's ever been and that is a big reason for the good performances he's producing."




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