'Heir apparent' Graham shines again in 2016
The heir apparent, Graham may yet to be anointed with the Sharks captaincy on a full-time basis, however the day has long since arrived where the gifted backrower was recognised as a leader at the Cronulla club both on and off the field.
Graham put the disappointment of a mid-season suspension and subsequently his unavailability for State of Origin well and truly behind him as he would go on to be one of the main reasons behind the Sharks premiership success.
In game three of Origin, the only game won by NSW in the 2016 series, Graham played a leading role in giving a clear indication he has what it takes to perform at the highest level. His 2016 Origin appearance is unlikely to be his last.
Back at the Sharks his work on the left edge was vital in their run towards the title, with his defence bruising and his touches with the football often classy.
A future captain but already a current leader, the Sharks have the perfect replacement waiting in the wings when Paul Gallen calls time on his illustrious career.
It may not have been one particular game or a significant moment on the field where fans and media commentators began taking notice as to the true worth of Wade Graham to the Sharks in 2016.
Rubbed out of Origin 2 through suspension, Graham copped the ban on the chin, returned to the Sharks determined not to let his disappointment derail the clubs premiership aspirations and continued to perform to a high level each and every week.
He stood in front of reporters and answered all their questions, expressing his frustration but vowing to keep pushing ahead, with his resilience and strength of character there for all to see.
It was his maturity in the face of adversity, coupled with the quality of his play on the field, that couldn’t be ignored. As they say the rest is history as the Sharks, with Graham one of those leading the way, charged to the 2016 NRL Premiership.
Growing up a five-eighth, Graham’s skills have long been there for all to see. A well-timed pass, a clever kick, he often had the right play for the right moment in creating plenty of opportunities for his teammates during the 2016 season.
One of those magic Graham moments came in a vital game against the Bulldogs back in round 13.
Facing a determined opponent and looking down the barrel of their first defeat in nine matches, the Sharks needed something special to get themselves back into the contest.
Enter Graham with a willing accomplice in Ben Barba. Graham took the ball to the line, looked out, then turned the ball in, slipped an inside pass to a flying Barba, with the Sharks fullback bursting through the gap before evading the fullback and planting the ball down for a try.
The try put some life into the Sharks challenge that evening, before the records will show James Maloney kicked a winning conversion as the fulltime siren sounded and due in part to some Graham-Barba magic the Sharks streak stayed alive.
A former Blacktown boy, now firmly entrenched in the Sutherland Shire, the good is that Graham has no plans to be anywhere else but at the Sharks in the years to come.
"I can't see myself going anywhere," Graham said. "As long as everything is in order ... I'm in a really good position myself to be here for a long time. Unless something absolutely crazy happens then I can't see myself leaving.
"Once the season comes to an end there will be a break and everyone will be able to take a breath and we might ramp everything up.
"I'm always going to be a kid from the west – you can't take that away from me, being a kid from Blacktown – my family is out there and my nephews play footy [there]. But I'm definitely a Shark now."
Year in Review: Wade Graham*
Games played 2016 - 26
Average tackles: 25.5
One-on-one tackles: 64
Average run metres: 123.7
Tackle breaks: 49
Statistics courtesy Big League Magazine and FoxSports.com.au