'Best I've Played With' - James Graham Hails Record Breaker James Roby

Roby will bring up 455 Betfred Super League appearances today
10:00, 12 Jun 2022

James Graham has played in NRL Grand Finals, Super League Grand Finals and a World Cup Final, rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest names ever to play rugby league.

Yet there is one man who stands head and shoulders above the rest, according to the St Helens great.

Graham’s former team-mate James Roby breaks a Betfred Super League record today, when he plays for the 455th time to surpass legendary former Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield.

Roby lined up alongside Graham in the 2006 Grand Final, Challenge Cup Final and subsequent World Club Challenge. The pair were shoulder to shoulder as England lost to Australia in the 2017 World Cup Final, and teamed up one final time in a major game as Saints stunned Wigan for the 2020 Super League title in Graham’s last ever game. 

They were also in the trenches together as Saints remarkably lost five Grand Finals in a row between 2007-11.

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And speaking exclusively to The Sportsman on the eve of Roby’s milestone moment, Graham reveals that the sport should be in no doubt about the measure of the player, or the scale of his achievement.

“James Roby. How can you describe him? Overall he is the best player I have ever played with,” says Graham, who clinched that treble with Roby in 2006 before a stunning swansong 14 years later to taste Grand Final glory in his own epic farewell.

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James Graham On His Fairytale Rugby League Farewell

There were some true greats in those early Saints teams. 

Roby’s predecessor at hooker Keiron Cunningham would be immortalised in a statue at Langtree Park. 

Team-mates Sean Long, Paul Sculthorpe - who also hailed Roby on The Sportsman this week and Paul Wellens all retired as Saints and Great Britain legends. 

With England, Graham would share a dressing room with Sinfield and Sam Burgess, while he was surrounded by greatness in almost all of his near-200 appearances in Australia’s NRL.

Yet for Graham nobody comes close to the 36-year-old from Whiston, whose performances have never dipped in the 18 years since his debut.

“Honestly I'm surprised the special forces didn't demand Roby join them,” he says.

“He is so humble, so committed, and so determined. He uses these attributes which we witness in every single appearance. 

“The only real downside is that those values outshine just how rugby smart he is. Because he is incredibly skillful and a great game manager.”

Roby’s new record is unlikely ever to be bettered, for a number of reasons. 

For a player to enjoy such longevity at the top level, and stay injury free is incredibly rare. And with the current drive towards player welfare, it is highly likely that the domestic calendar would be shortened, rather than extended if any changes were to be made in the coming months or years. 

Add to that the very real possibility that Roby may not actually be done yet - he has at least the rest of this season and may well decide to go round one more time - and it seems we are watching history being indelibly inked in rugby league’s record books.

“What a man he is,” Graham adds. “I am so proud of him and what he has achieved for his town, his team, and his family."

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