Graham’s message for Matt Lodge
JAMES Graham made a beeline for Matt Lodge. The full-time siren had just sounded at Kogarah's Jubilee Oval - the piercing sound signalling the end to one of the toughest weeks of Lodge's turbulent life.
The Broncos prop was shattered. He had just thrown the intercept pass for Dragons rival Ben Hunt's matchwinning try in the NRL season-opener.
But in one split-second moment, Graham gave Lodge perspective.
The British Test warhorse walked over to the 116kg bookend, extended his hand, looked into Lodge's eyes and uttered two simple words: "Welcome back".
There are plenty of people who believe Lodge should be banned from the NRL for life. In the first half at Kogarah, the NRL's newest villain was mercilessly booed every time he touched the ball.
But amid the fury and maelstrom of the Lodge debate, Graham's actions were a sign of peer acceptance.
"For what it is worth, I am pleased he is back," says Graham, one of the NRL's most eloquent players and a veteran of 136 first-grade games.
Asked why he went out of his way to shake Lodge's hand, Graham said: "Because of the type of person that is attracted to play our game.
"You can debate it (whether Lodge should be back in the NRL) but let's move on. That (his handshake) was a personal thing between me and Matt on the field. People are entitled to their opinion about him.
"You have to ask Matt if he appreciated my gesture. The fans booed him but if they want to do that, that's their right."
An hour after full-time, the fury of the Dragons fans had cooled. As a freshly showered Lodge left the ground, several supporters shook his hand and took photos. The vitriol had dissipated. It is why Graham believes rugby league and its redemptive ethos can help heal Lodge.
"He has served his ban," Graham said. "Matt seems like he has turned the corner and our game shouldn't turn its back on someone who has made a mistake.
"This game helps players make something of their lives and the people around them have better lives."
The 22-year-old was Brisbane's most prolific forward on the night, running for 107 metres from 14 hit-ups. There was a handling error and the disastrous intercept pass but Graham believes Lodge has a massive future in the code.
"He's a really good player," he said. "How long has he been out of the game ... three years? "He's very tough, he runs the ball hard and shows no fear. He's a big boy and only 22 years old ... time is on his side to get better, that's for sure."