Sharks back-rower Wade Graham is enjoying a drama-free start to the 2017 Origin series – unlike his dramatic belated entrance onto the interstate scene last year.
The in-form Shark has long been tipped as a future representative star but his call-up ahead of Game Two last year hit a major roadblock when he was charged for a careless high tackle on Johnathan Thurston in the final club game before Origin II.
Graham was only called in as a replacement after Boyd Cordner suffered a broken toe in Game One. The eventual replacement, Tyson Frizell, took his chance with outstanding efforts in Games Two and Three. Graham made a belated debut in the Game Three win after long-serving back-rower Greg Bird was dropped to accommodate him.
Despite all the drama, Graham emerged with his reputation enhanced after showing incredible maturity through the process – which included a whirlwind trip up to Blues camp in Coffs Harbour for Game Two before flying back down to Sydney to defend his case at the judiciary.
Heading into Game One this year though, Graham is in the 17 with no injury or suspension issues in front of him and his spot earned on merit despite a wealth of available back-rowers for Daley to choose from.
This depth meant Graham was taking nothing for granted despite his form.
"It's a good feeling to be here at the start – I'm real happy for the opportunity, to start with," Graham said.
"The back row was always going to be a tough spot to get into so I was working hard to try and get the opportunity.
"'Loz' (head coach Laurie Daley) and 'Sterlo' (selection adviser Peter Sterling) have seen something there to make a spot for me so I'm very excited to see what their plan is and what their thoughts are and to get stuck into the week."
Graham said he was nervous about his possible selection right up until he got the call on Sunday night.
"I was never really sure. I knew I just had to play good footy at Cronulla and hopefully just keep banging down the door and grateful to get the opportunity," he said.
"You look at it, Boyd [Cordner], 'Jacko' (Josh Jackson), Friz, Jake Trbojevic on the bench, those four players are arguably the best back-rowers not just in NSW but in Australia if you put them together," he said.
"It's a pretty good back row and I'm happy to be a part of it. I was pretty nervous on Sunday, I wasn't sure if there was going to be a way to force my way into the team with those sort of guys and if they could come up with a spot for me or a role they see me doing within this team so I'm stoked they've given me the opportunity and hopefully I can make the most of it."
Graham will be in the unfamiliar position of starting from the bench, having been in the run-on team in his Origin debut last year and not started from the bench at club level since early 2013.
"It's going to be a different role than what I've probably played at Cronulla but I'm excited for the challenge," Graham said.
"I feel like with my role, it could be very fluid depending on how the game goes. We could have a plan there and the game doesn't pan out the way it's supposed to in the first 10 and I could have a different role.
"I'm open to all of that and I'm willing to prepare the best I can this week to make sure whatever role I'm given I can do at a high level and to play well because I want to be successful and these are the games you've got to make your mark in."
This article first appeared on NRL.com