Signing contract at -30 degrees: Graham's chilling sacrifice

Wade Graham froze while Cronulla burned.

As his coach was deregistered, a teammate turned his own sights to the NFL and others dragged their club into unwanted headlines, Graham was watching the Sharks unfolding saga through minus 30 degree snow, some 16,000km away.

So from the rugby league heartland of Montreal, Canada, the Cronulla co-captain made the call.

To ignore lucrative offers from the likes of Parramatta among others, Graham touched down in the new year and led.

Within the week putting his money, and all-important signature, where his mouth was and inking a three-year extension when Cronulla needed it most.

"The club had all those dramas pre-Christmas," Graham tells NRL.com.

"We lost Val, there was the Flanno situation and then we had the incident before Christmas with the sailing club (in which players from the club were banned and six players fined over an incident at the Cronulla nightspot).

"I was overseas at the time, spending Christmas with my wife's family in Canada and I could've held off. I could've kept waiting and kept negotiating.

"But when I was overseas I really felt away from the group. I wasn't there, I couldn't be hands on helping out.

"That clicked in me just how much I really care for the club and care for the playing group. I've sat in front of guys like Aaron Woods, Matty Moylan, even Shaun Johnson and I've sat with them and talked about the club, the playing group and the direction we want to go in.

"I realised one way I could show I was really solid and supporting the club and the players was getting my deal sorted out. I knew it wouldn't take much.

"There was other interest, my manager fielded initial calls and there was money on offer elsewhere. But I've been at Cronulla a long time now and I'm committed to the playing group.

"There's no doubt I believe in this club and the ability in our group. I've sat in front of those boys and told them that.

"The way I could show my solidarity was recommitting for another three years".

Two months earlier and with several more to go in his recovery from an ACL rupture, Graham went on the record saying he would hold fire on contract talks until Flanagan's own future was sorted with the Sharks.

The pair's friendship will endure long past football and Flanagan's deregistration for breaching his ASADA ban in 2014, pending the career coach's appeal.

"I've had a great relationship with Flanno ever since I came across from Penrith and that relationship will continue," Graham says.

"Even if he was to pick up a coaching job tomorrow at a rival club, our relationship wouldn't change.

"But a club's always bigger than any one person, any player or coach and footy's going to be going a lot longer than us two".

Casting back to the most dire days in Cronulla's history, when Graham considered giving the game away over the supplements saga, a leader stood inadvertently, and infamously, even then.

Fronting for a meeting with the investigating body in thongs and trackies, a 22-year-old Graham's actions said plenty on behalf of his Sharks teammates.

His reported "I'm not here to paint a f---ing picture" response to an ASADA request to do just that saying even more.

These days Graham is one of Cronulla's RLPA delegates, tipped to follow former clubmates James Maloney and Jeremy Latimore into further work with the players' union down the track.

He can look back on the roughest trot of his career and that photo with a wry grin, perspective on his current injury plight that's not all that needed with such a knockabout character anyway.

"I look back and I was a bit silly but at the time I really didn't care," Graham says.

"I was a young guy, it felt like I was getting attacked from all angles and I couldn't care less what happened back then.

"Certainly people deal with adversity in different ways and back then I was probably angry at everyone anyway. I've come a long way since then, we all come through different things.

"You learn and you get on with it, and now I can look back with a smile".

Life goes on without Flanagan in The Shire, the Sharks, rookie coach John Morris and Graham getting on with it.

He's worked his rehab schedule around his teammates' ball field sessions, in the ears of emerging back-rowers Kurt Capewell, Scott Sorenson, Briton Nikora and Billy Magoulias whenever he's needed.

The same as Luke Lewis and Paul Gallen for so long at Cronulla. Petero Civoniceva and Tony Puleta before them when Graham was at Penrith.

"I've had some great leaders in front of me and some great examples set for me," Graham says.

Sharks back-rower Wade Graham.
Sharks back-rower Wade Graham. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

"All those guys you pick things up from, I've been very fortunate to play with them over the years.

"In juniors I did find myself ending up in leadership roles. I can't put a finger on why but I suppose I've never been afraid to voice my opinion, ask a question if I didn't know something, or help someone out in the same way.

"I think that's why I've gravitated to those sort of positions. I'm not afraid to admit if I don't know the answer or ask for help.

"I think the ability to do that has pushed me to the front a bit".

Right where Cronulla need him.