NRL Hall of Fame honour for Gladstone's Mark Graham
GLADSTONE resident Mark Graham has created New Zealand rugby league history after being named as the country's first inductee into the NRL Hall of Fame.
Graham (pictured) will join fellow inductees Petero Civoniceva, Cliff Lyons, Steve Menzies, Ricky Stuart and Gorden Tallis for a ceremony at the Sydney Cricket Ground on August 1.
The 62-year-old Gladstone Ports Corporation worker received the news last Wednesday while on a day off at the golf course.
"(NRL Awards senior manager) Frank Puletua gave me a call and said I'd be inducted on August 1 and told me not to let anyone know until it's announced," Graham said.
"I told my family but since (the announcement) my phone has been ringing about every three seconds.
"Lots of people were calling and they were all well-wishing so it's been lovely, and nice to hear from some old friends.
"I feel very pleased and proud."
Born in Otahuhu, south-east of Auckland, Graham played his junior footy with Otahuhu Panthers.
He made his Test debut for New Zealand in 1977 before coming to play in Australia with Norths Devils in the Brisbane competition in 1979.
Graham only spent two seasons with the Devils, but made such an impression he was named in the side's Team of the Century in 2008 alongside players such as future NRL immortal Cameron Smith and Queensland legend Trevor Gillmeister.
A lock or second rower during his playing days, Graham forged an eight-season, 146-game stint with the North Sydney Bears before taking up a short-lived contract with English side Wakefield Trinity in 1988.
He retired in 1988 at age 33 after playing 29 Tests, 18 of those as captain, to complement his games for the Bears.
Graham took up various coaching roles once his playing days were over, including a stint as Auckland Warriors coach in 1999-2000.
But the past 12 years have been spent in Gladstone after he moved here so his wife Jakki could be closer to family.
"I had a couple of businesses at the Gold Coast and sold them to move up here," he said.
"I coached (Gladstone) Brothers for a while, started working in industry around town and was lucky enough to get a job out at GPC and I've been there almost 10 years."
In a world where sporting contracts can last anywhere between one to five seasons, Graham feels very settled in the Port City.
"I'm pretty happy because as a football player or a coach you don't stay anywhere for a long time - you see out your contract and move on.
"I like living in Gladstone.
"I work with good people and earn good money so I have no complaints."
One of those people who he works alongside at GPC, albeit not directly, is another former North Sydney Bear, Gary Larson.
The careers of Graham and Larson barely crossed paths, but it was Gladstone-born Larson who effectively took the place of Graham in the Bears' line-up after he moved to England.
Graham's last game for the Bears was a 12-6, Round-21win against Parramatta, he played at lock that day with 21-year-old Larson starting from the bench in only his second first-grade game.
Larson went on to 249 first-grade games (including 233 for the Bears), 24 Origins for Queensland and six Test matches.
Voting for the Hall of Fame began with a list of 100 names which was reduced to 25 after an independent screening process.
Former New Zealand greats Stacey Jones and Ruben Wiki also made the top-25.
"I'll be the first of many I'm sure because there's a lot of good Kiwi players going round," Graham said.
"As I understand it the nominations aren't over - if you don't get in this time there's still an opportunity in the future."
Born: September 29, 1955
Position: Second row/lock
Premiership career: North Sydney Bears 146 games (1981-88), Wakefield Trinity 14 games (1988)
International career: 29 Tests (1977-88), World Series (1977), World Cup (1988)
Honours: NRL 2018 Hall of Fame inductee (first New Zealand player to be inducted), Norths Devils Team of the Century (2008), New Zealand Rugby League Player of the Century (2007), North Sydney Bears Team of the Century (2006), Auckland Rugby League Immortal, New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame (1996), NZRL Legends of League (1995), 2 x Dally M Second Rower of the Year (1981, 1982).