Wade Graham’s positional switch underlines his value to NSW

With the series on the line, it took just three words for Brad Fittler to know Wade Graham was the right man to take over from the injured Nathan Cleary at five-eighth. Even his dad knew it.

Mark Graham was like most inside Optus Stadium and everyone else watching at home on television.

“I didn’t really know Nathan (Cleary) was off and then I said to my wife, ‘I think Wade is playing six’,’’ Mark said.

Unlike everyone else outside the Blues’ inner sanctum, the proud father of NSW’s Mr Fix-It Wade Graham barely shifted in his seat.

The plumber from Blacktown didn’t turn to his wife Debbie in a state of fear because it was only Graham’s third game in nine months following a knee reconstruction.

And it didn’t bother him that their son was now playing in one of the most pivotal positions on the field with the series on the line in front of 59,000 people.

Wade Graham and father Mark after the game two win in Perth.

Neither was Mark worried that without Cleary’s long kicking game, particularly in the driving rain, the Blues’ 18-6 halftime lead could quickly evaporate.

Instead, the former South Grafton Rebel took a sip of his Tooheys and watched his son write another chapter in his scrapbook of memories, one which includes pictures of the night 11-year-old Wade carried the kicking tee of Andrew Johns during the 2002 Origin series.

And on Sunday night, Wade rolled up his sleeves like his old man does before work each morning to do the job NSW coach Brad Fittler asks of all his players — put the team first and be selfless.

Graham made light work of his positional switch.

“I’ve said it before, nothing amazes me with this bloke of mine,’’ Mark said. “He sets a goal and loves it.

“As it turned out, he finished the game there. He played a lot of halves as a junior and he’s still got those hands and that footy brain to play eyes up.

“He’s just a bit bigger now.’’

With Cleary sitting in a corner of the dressing room at halftime, his injured ankle swollen and burning with pain, Fittler and NSW assistant coach Danny Buderusmoved towards Graham.

“They asked if I was comfortable with the systems and I said, ‘yeah, I’m good,’’ Graham said.

“It really wasn’t a decision for anyone — if Nathan was off, I was going there.

“Part of my role and the reason why I’m picked is to cover for six, seven, nine, centres … wherever.’’

Graham didn’t give a second thought to his newly rebuilt knee.

“None at all,’’ Graham said.

Alongside James Maloney, Graham delivered.

He finished with two try-assists, the highlight a clever kick for Blues flyer Josh Addo-Carr.

“It was the last tackle and I noticed they were a bit tight and I did know we had the fastest man in the world on the wing, so I just had to get it anywhere in the area,’’ Graham said.

A former five-eighth with his junior club Blacktown City and in his formative years with Penrith, Graham’s last NRL match in the halves was in round four, 2015.

However, the Cronulla co-captain did replace Cooper Cronk in his Test debut for Australia during the 2017 World Cup.

The Cronulla man has friends in high places.

“When Cooper Cronk had an HIA (head-injury assessment), I went on and made my debut for Australia in the halves,’’ Graham said.

“I started my career in the halves and played four or five seasons, almost 100 games, in the halves, so it’s not completely unfamiliar to me.

“The conditions helped me out a lot defensively. Everyone is a bit slower.

“I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to be that cover.

“We’ve got a pretty handy backrower in this team who is the captain (Boyd Cordner) and that’s my favoured position.

“So to be able to force my way into the team in a different role, I’m very proud of that fact.’’

Graham wouldn’t speculate on whether he should be a candidate to replace Cleary, who is expected to miss Origin III.

“We’ll just see how it all falls in the next week,’’ Graham said.

“If you’d said to me three weeks ago that I’d be standing here on the back of this result, I probably would have laughed.

“So I’m just going to wait and see.’’

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