Sports

James Graham proud to lead England in place of injured O’Loughlin

Liverpudlian James Graham will cast his initial disappointment to one side as he prepares to lead England's rugby league team in his home city.

Head coach Wayne Bennett turned to the former St Helens forward in the absence of regular captain Sean O'Loughlin as well as his deputy and South Sydney star Sam Burgess for Sunday's second Test against New Zealand at Anfield.

Trust: Wayne Bennett is more than comfortable appointing James Graham captain of England.

Trust: Wayne Bennett is more than comfortable appointing James Graham captain of England.Credit:PA

Graham, who captained England in the 2010 Four Nations Series and stood in against France a fortnight ago, was the obvious choice to take over when O'Loughlin succumbed to an old calf injury he aggravated in the first Test victory in Hull.

Graham, England's most-capped player who will make his 43rd appearance, admits it will be a proud moment when he leads the team out, although his excitement is tempered by sympathy for the stricken Wigan loose forward.

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"It's probably more disappointment than anything, in terms of losing Sean," he said.

"I saw what he went through last year, when he missed the World Cup final and came back and captained Wigan to a grand final win and has been pretty healthy throughout the year.

"I'm hugely disappointed for him but I've got to stand up and take this role on and concentrate on doing my job for the team.

"I can't be any more proud than when I'm playing for England anyway. The fact that there's a C next to my name doesn't really change anything – I'm not more proud or anything like that.

"I'm proud every time I put on the England shirt."

England's nail-biting 18-16 win at the KCOM Stadium has given them a chance to wrap up the series ahead of the third Test at Elland Road but Graham is expecting the Kiwis to bounce back.

"I'm not even thinking about 3-0," he said.

"There's a win next to our name from last week but, make no mistake, New Zealand played well. We have to play well in order to get the win.

"I'm imagining the Kiwis are going to be better than they were last weekend and we'll have to go up again."

St Helens prop Luke Thompson will start in O'Loughlin's number 13 jersey and Bennett has called up Castleford loose forward Adam Milner to fill the vacancy on the bench.

Experienced forward Adam Blair is set to return for New Zealand's must-win Test against England.

The 32-year-old New Zealand Warriors prop was a late withdrawal from the team that lost 18-16 in last Saturday's first Test in Hull, but head coach Michael Maguire confirmed on Friday that he is back in contention after fully recovering from a minor knee injury.

"Adam has got through training well this week to put himself back in the frame for what is a critical match for us," said Australian Maguire.

"The players are all aware of the areas we need to improve in and they've put in the work this week to address where we need to be better.

"It's also going to be a special experience playing at such a great stadium like Anfield, one we're really looking forward to."

The return of Blair – for what will be his 47th cap – in place of second rower Joseph Tapine, who came in for him at the KCOM Stadium, is likely to be the only change, although Maguire gave little else away as the Kiwis announced a 19-man squad – laden with NRL talent – in alphabetical order.

New Zealand say Maguire will only confirm his line-up 90 minutes before kick-off, although he will be quizzed at the end of the traditional captain's run at Anfield on Saturday.

New Zealand squad: D Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith, capt), L Ah Mau (St George Illawarra), A Blair (NZ Warriors), J Bromwich, K Bromwich (both Melbourne), J Fisher-Harris (Penrith), J Hughes (Melbourne), S Johnson (NZ Warriors), I Liu (Sydney Roosters), J Manu (Sydney Roosters), E Marsters (Wests Tigers), K Maumalo (NZ Warriors), K Nikorima (Brisbane), K Proctor (Gold Coast), J Rapana (Canberra), B Smith (Melbourne), J Tapine (Canberra), M Taupau (Manly), J Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters).