NRL Grand Final: James Graham and Burgess brothers face off

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport
Sam Burgess and James Graham
Friendly rivals: England forwards Sam Burgess and James Graham will cross paths in Sunday's Grand Final
National Rugby League Grand Final 2014
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury Bulldogs
Date: Sunday, 5 October Time: 09:20 BST Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra

The last time James Graham lined up for Canterbury Bulldogs in a National Rugby League Grand Final back in 2012, there was another Englishman, in Melbourne Storm half-back Gareth Widdop, on the opposite side.

When the England front-rower steps out in the 2014 final on Sunday, he could face up against not just one, but three.

Not just any trio, either.

Opponents South Sydney Rabbitohs have three of the formidable Burgess brothers in the 17-man squad - Sam, Thomas and George - three hulking English powerhouses on whom the Bunnies have built a powerful pack.

It is a mouth-watering prospect - particularly Graham's individual battle with Sam on his last league appearance before a move to Premiership union side Bath.

James Graham
Graham's ball-skills and power led to his Dally M Prop of the Year award

"Everyone has seen how good Sam can be and has been for a number of years now," Graham told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"He's a really important part of the Souths team but you can't just concentrate on him because one-to-17 they have it in the locker to pull out a special moment."

While Graham's 2012 final experience ended in defeat, and a 12-match ban followed when he was found guilty of biting the ear of Melbourne full-back Billy Slater, he goes into the 2014 final in the best form of his career.

Recognition came with a Dally M Prop of the Year award on the back of his performances in 2014, pipping luminaries such as Roosters' Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, North Queensland's Matt Scott and George Burgess to the prize.

"To be honest I was a bit embarrassed because there are some great front-rowers here, but I was really pleased," he said.

"I thanked my team-mates more than anything because without them helping me I wouldn't be able to perform."

Grand Final Magic: Souths 23-12 Manly - 1970
John Sattler
All Premierships are hard earned, but perhaps none more so than South Sydney's 1970 success. John Sattler, their captain and leader, had his jaw broken by Manly's John Bucknall early in the match but was adamant he would continue without complaint. His bravery helped Souths extend their 12-6 half-time lead to a 23-12 victory when tries were worth three points rather than four.

Canterbury's place in the Grand Final was by no means guaranteed when they finished seventh in the regular season ladder, but impressive finals wins gave Des Hasler's side a chance of glory.

Meanwhile, the man tasked with denying the Bulldogs a first Premiership in 10 years has an even bigger weight of expectation on his shoulders.

Souths' last Premiership success came in 1971, and their coach Michael Maguire - a Super League winner with Wigan in 2010 - is desperate to end the wait.

"It's very important, when I first arrived back I didn't understand the enormity of what it meant for this club," Maguire told BBC Radio Manchester.

"It's a bit like when I got to Wigan, a great strong club, and not having won anything here at Souths for 43 years has rung bells since I arrived.

"People on the street hammer me with that but it would be great to be on the other end where we've made an opportunity for ourselves in a Grand Final. The euphoria and the fans is so much like when I was at Wigan.

Sam Burgess will join Premiership rugby union side Bath after the 2014 NRL season
Sam Burgess will join Premiership rugby union side Bath after the 2014 NRL season

"I'm following in the footsteps of what I did at Wigan, but it'll be a big game."

Maguire has been a revelation as Bunnies coach since his move to Redfern in 2011, leading the club to second and third-place finishes after four years outside the top eight.

The success mirrored his achievements with Wigan, where he took the Warriors back to Old Trafford for the first time in seven years in 2010 and laid the foundations for the subsequent 2013 Super League and Challenge Cup double under his assistant Shaun Wane.

"I was very proud - what I learned in my time at Wigan was there's nothing better than playing in a Grand Final," continued Maguire.

"The experiences I had while coaching in Super League stick very fondly with myself and it's something I wanted to achieve and we're here now."

The romantics might be looking for a Souths win, and the bookmakers are certainly tipping it, but an 'underdog' mentality could serve the Bulldogs well - as it has throughout the finals.

Grand Final Magic: Canterbury 24-12 Balmain - 1988
Terry Lamb
Canterbury's 1988 victory in the Australian Rugby League Grand Final turned on a big hit by Bulldogs stand-off Terry Lamb on Great Britain star Ellery Hanley of Balmain Tigers. Hanley limped off with the Tigers leading 6-4 and the game instead swung away to the men from Belmore. The score was 10-8 to the Doggies by half-time and a second-half rout ensured a 24-12 success.

"That's for the pundits and people to speak about," said Graham.

"No-one gave us a chance when we went down to Melbourne but we managed to get the victory there and then similarly against Manly and Penrith.

"We've done pretty well at blocking out the outside influences, what others have said about us, and focused on getting the job done against Souths."

Sunday's Grand Final teams

South Sydney: Greg Inglis; Alex Johnston, Dylan Walker, Kirisome Auva'a, Lote Tuqiri; Luke Keary, Adam Reynolds; George Burgess, Apisai Koroisau, Dave Tyrrell, Ben Te'o, John Sutton (capt), Sam Burgess.

Interchanges: Jason Clark, Kyle Turner, Chris McQueen, Thomas Burgess, Ben Lowe, Luke Burgess, Bryson Goodwin.

Canterbury: Sam Perrett; Corey Thompson, Josh Morris, Tim Lafai, Mitch Brown; Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson; Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis (capt), James Graham, Josh Jackson, Tony Williams, Greg Eastwood.

Interchanges: Tim Browne, Dale Finucane, David Klemmer, Frank Pritchard, Moses Mbye, Reni Maitua.

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