Fit Graham to lift for NRL finals run

Canterbury captain James Graham says that for the first time in his rugby league career, he’s worried about how people perceive him.

Finally free of the suspensions and injuries that have plagued his first season as Bulldogs skipper, Graham has vowed to lift his game to lead the team into the NRL finals.

But it’s been a trying year for the 29-year-old Englishman, who came under heavy scrutiny earlier this year for his infamous Good Friday outburst at match officials that drew a three-game ban.

“Part of me would like to think I don’t care (about image), but I have to care,” Graham told AAP.

“Looking back at Good Friday, I realised that I was over the top and it wasn’t acceptable.

“I hold my hands up to that.”

Graham says he’s worked hard to temper his aggression since that memorable loss to South Sydney, evidenced by deliberately putting his hands behind his back when approaching referees in last week’s tense defeat to the Sydney Roosters.

“I think something as simple as putting my hands behind my back makes me look less animated,” he said.

“(It’s) something I’ve consciously made the choice to try and do, to try and stop those negative images coming out of me.”

The Good Friday suspension, as well as hamstring and knee issues, have limited Graham to just 11 appearances for the Bulldogs this year.

And with the side sitting precariously in eighth spot ahead of Friday night’s crucial encounter with ladder leaders Brisbane, Graham has put the onus on himself to guarantee a finals spot for the club.

“It’s been an interesting (season), one of frustration with injury and suspension, and that has had a bit of an affect on my form when I’ve been coming back,” he said.

“I’d like to think I’m pretty much back to full fitness now and hopefully I can start to have more of an impact and have a better output on the field for the club.”

Last year’s grand finalists are set to be boosted by the return of Frank Pritchard (ribs) and Curtis Rona (knee) for a difficult run home that includes matches against defending premiers South Sydney and the Warriors.

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