Graham aims to be another Championship success story at Saints

If Sam Graham does anywhere near as well as some of the other Sams that Saints have signed from Championship clubs, it's fair to say he will be a success story.

By Tom Vickers
Sunday, 10th July 2022, 7:00 am
Sam Graham
Sam Graham

Graham will make the move to Northampton from Doncaster Knights this summer, coming to Saints on the back of a season that saw him named in the Championship's team of the year.

The back row forward has certainly caught the eye in England's second tier and he was the captain of a Doncaster side that finished second in the standings last season.

The Knights won 17 of their 20 matches, actually winning one more than table-toppers Ealing Trailfinders, who won the division courtesy of picking up more try bonus points.

Graham was a key part of his side's success, and now he wants to become a similarly influential figure at Saints.

He certainly has a shot, especially when you look back at how No.8 Sam Dickinson, a crucial part of Saints' double-winning team in 2013/14, and hooker Sam Matavesi, acurrent key figure in the squad, have established themselves.

Dickinson was an under-the-radar recruit from Rotherham Titans, while Matavesi arrived from Cornish Pirates.

And Graham would love to follow in their footsteps to become someone Saints can look to week in, week out.

"I hope so," said the likeable 25-year-old. "Obviously it's everyone's aim to come to the club and hit the ground running.

"That's so important for someone like me, coming up from the Championship, you don't want to be someone who feels like you're behind the pace because you'vebeen playing in the Championship.

"If anything, it just makes your hungrier.

"Saints have been brilliant in everything they've given me to make sure I hit the ground running.

"As long as you go through the process and keep ticking all the right boxes, you hope the result will come, too."

Graham has made 28 Doncaster appearances in two seasons since joining the Knights from Bristol Bears.

He won the players’ and coaches’ player of the year awards during his first year at Castle Park and was rewarded with the captaincy for last season.

He went on to make it into the Championship dream team.

And he said: "It was very complimentary.

"It was a good season and it was just enjoyable.

"We built quite a culture at the club, which showed with the results we had because we went on an unbeaten run of about 16 games.

"It was nice to make the team of the year and I was just enjoying myself."

Graham began his career at Chippenham RFC before joining Bath’s Academy and then Bristol.

He also spent time overseas developing his game with Auckland’s Massey RFC in New Zealand prior to joining the Bears, where he made 10 first-team appearances and a further 15 while on loan with Hartpury.

"I think I've developed quite late," Graham said.

"Bristol really was my breakthrough, but I feel ready for it this time.

"I needed to go away and do quite a lot of work to prove I could compete at that level.

"Hopefully I've put myself in a position to really push to play at Northampton, which I'm really excited about."

Graham worked as a professional chef for five years before his rugby career took off.

And he was actually in the kitchen at England's Pennyhill Park training base, often trying to catch a glimpse of the stars who trained there.

"I'd like to think I'm more rugby Sam now than chef Sam," Graham said.

"I was a chef at Pennyhill Park and I used to sit at the end of the driveway on any break I used to get to watch the training.

"I don't think I ever lasted more than two minutes before being swiftly moved on, as expected really.

"They're good memories.

"It's quite funny because I had a wedding the other day with my chef friends and we all got together and had a reunion of all the people in the kitchen and it was so nice reminiscing about all the good times we had and the hard work we did. We became like a family.

"With everything I've had going on for the past few years it's sort of easy to forget where you came from so it was nice."

So what is more stressful - being a chef or a rugby player?

"It's very different!" Graham said.

"The nice thing about being a chef is that even if you're knackered, you don't wake up feeling as though you've been in a car crash.

"You're still just as tired, and more mentally tired from being a rugby player than physically.

"I don't miss the standing on my feet for 16 hours straight, with very little to no natural light.

"It was quite a horrible environment to work in, but I'm outside now!"

Graham has clearly developed a lot since joining Doncaster.

And he admits moving to the Championship club proved to be the perfect decision for him.

He said: "I don't think being at Bristol was too much for me, it was just that Bristol came up from the Championship at the time and they had a lot of very good players there.

"Coming through the Academy, you have to earn your stripes a bit and wait your time.

"The best thing for me was to go away and play - and that's exactly what I did.

"Moving to Doncaster was a really good decision for me, to play rugby week in, week out and be a first-team player rather than an Academy player.

"It's like any job - you have to progress through your career and tick all the boxes.

"To get out there and do that this year and, to a certain extent last year, and play regular rugby is massive for your development."

Now Graham will look to continue his development while playing regularly for Saints.

"I first heard from Saints around the New Year time," he said.

"Through my agent I received a message that Saints were interested in me and it was very exciting because of where the club are at the moment.

"They play some brilliant rugby and I instantly wanted to be part of it.

"I spoke to Phil Dowson and came down to the Gardens. We chatted about everything.

"The nice thing about my career is that when something has felt right, it has worked out to be right, and straightaway I got that feeling with the guys at Saints.

"I've been excited ever since and I couldn't wait to get started.

"I've watched the games week in, week out, trying to get an idea of anything I could do to get up to speed quicker.

"They play the kind of game anyone is going to love, with high pace, high energy, throwing the ball around and there are threats all over the pitch.

"It's exactly what I would want to come and see if I was a fan at a rugby match."

Dowson, who takes over as Saints director of rugby this summer, can clearly relate to Graham as they are both back row forwards at heart.

And Graham said: "There were lots of similarities and it was nice because it was clear to see straightaway the amount of work they had already put into me.

"They had watched every single one of my games, they knew everything about me before I got there, so even though I was going there to have a chat, they knew.

"They gave me things to work on straightaway and it's exactly what I want because I'm very aware that I'm not the finished article.

"For me, still developing as much as I can, as often as I can, that's another big reason I wanted to go to Saints."

Graham has made the move to Abington and, clearly an affable character, he should have no problem quickly making friends at Saints and in the town.

"I actually don't know any of the players, which is a nice thing and a bit intimidating as well," he said.

"It forces you to go out of your way and become part of the group because it's clear to see how tight they are.

"There's a few people going this year and you don't want to feel as if you're coming in to replace someone, but that's the nature of sport.

"I want to get in there and make as many new friends as possible.

"But it's not the first time I've done it because I didn't know anyone at Doncaster when I went there.

"Hopefully it goes just as well!"