NZ player of the century barracking for Qld

COME next week New Zealand's rugby league player of the century, Mark Graham, doesn't care what happens between Queensland and New South Wales, so long as the Maroons win.

For the last nine or so years the former Kiwi and North Sydney Bears captain has called Gladstone home and says Queensland comes second, only to his country of birth, in his heart.

Although Mr Graham never had the opportunity to play in rugby league's greatest spectacle, State of Origin, he's not at all miffed.

"That was just part and parcel of the deal back then," Mr Graham said.

"Now you've got James Tamou who played for the New Zealand Maori [team] and then the next year he was playing for New South Wales and Australia.

Mark Graham standing beside his jersey at the New Zealand Rugby League Hall of Fame.
Mark Graham standing beside his jersey at the New Zealand Rugby League Hall of Fame. Luke Graham

"It's a shame it happens but I'm not dirty on Tamou …it's just the rules," he said.

Starting as a centre and winger, Mr Graham first laced up his boots for Auckland's Otahuhu footy club and didn't play representative footy until he was 19 years old, which he said just goes to show you don't have to be "punching above your weight as a young fella" to be successful later in life.

"When you're young you've got to learn about the game and to be a team member," Mr Graham said.

"I've won a lot of individual accolades but our sport is a game played with more than one player and I've been fortunate to play with and against some of the best players to play the game.

"Look at Queensland; they're a wonderful team…they have the formula for rep footy and they've produced a team that will die for one another," he said.

After Graham had played a few tests matches for New Zealand it was time for him to either retire and get a real job so he could earn a buck or come to Australia and keep playing footy.

Luckily enough one of Graham's mates was coaching the Norths in Brisbane and asked him to come and play.

But this was the 1980s and there wasn't any wining and dining, signing bonuses, third party deals or even a paid flight over to Australia. "I just turned up and starting training," he said.

That year Graham got his team across the line to win the grand final.

But in that game he also managed to crush Wally Lewis' oesophagus which Lewis said nearly killed him.

"He said I nearly killed him but I tell him I saved his life…I was the one who stopped the game," he said.

"In another game Wally got a broken a jaw and he also blames me for that one as well."

Asked whether there was any truth in the matter, Graham just said that that was footy.

Graham went on to captain the North Sydney Bears as well as a whole heap of games for New Zealand.

He said the best moment of his career was beating Australia 18 to nothing in 1985 when the Kiwis had four guys playing who had been kicking a footy around in a local competition the week before, and who were facing the likes of Mal Meninga and Wally Lewis.

"That's what is so good about sport and footy - it's that the underdog can win even when everyone is expecting it to be the other way," he said.

Graham says the secret to being a good footy player is to work hard and have a bit of luck along the way.

Because Graham is a shift worker at the ports he only watched up until half time for Origin 1, but in game two he's hoping for a similar result, which would see Queensland wrap the series up.

Today Graham will attend a special luncheon for past and present players, which this legend of the game said he was extremely honoured to be a part of.

"Hopefully I can say g'day to [a few of the Maroons players]," he said. "It'll be nice to be in the same room as them."