You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
Remembrance Day trip evokes emotion for England, Kiwis

James Graham sat on the steps of Tyne Cot Cemetery in the rural village of Passchendaele and was left with no words.

The England captain and the squad travelled to Belgium prior to their three-game series against New Zealand to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I before Sunday's third Test on Remembrance Day (2.15am Monday AEDT).

A total of 69 professional rugby league players lost their lives during the first war and for Graham, who had family members fight in World War II, the Dragons prop struggled to comprehend his thoughts when reflecting on the experience.

"It was an emotional occasion, difficult to put into words. The feelings it brought on ... we were all there and there wasn't much said between the group," Graham said.

"To think men were in our position and had the same goals as us, playing for a club team and wanted to win the league or a Cup final, maybe represent England or Great Britain.

"To war they went and they didn't come back. It made me think like I wonder what they were thinking when they were there? Maybe that they'll get back and keep playing. It's really hard to take yourself there. They were men just like us and paid the ultimate price.

"I just put in my head what they were going to do, and a lot of them were going there to die. I was speaking about it with the lads and Wayne, he's big on his history. It was more like I don't know if they had a choice.

"It was either go out on top or you'd get killed for not going over. Maybe they didn't want to let their mate down, when you hear the sheer volume of people. They were men just like us and we were just in disbelief it happened 100 years ago."

Graham is known to remove his jersey after full-time and hand it to a member of the crowd. After Sunday's victory over New Zealand in Liverpool, he paid his respects to the current men and women by taking time to thank them for their service.

Those that lost their lives have paved the way for people to enjoy their freedom, including rugby league players, to fulfil their dreams on land that was once fought on.

"I really don't like to compare sport to war, it's just not the same," Graham said.

"I find it disrespectful, there's a different price to be paid. Those men and the service women now go knowing they could pay the ultimate price.

"We get looked after here, we go for 80 minutes ... we train hard and that sort of stuff and have comradery but we have it easy – physio, doctors, massages – I'm sure they're looked after too but it's nothing to what they go through."

Kiwis captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak added the final clash of the series would be felt across both nations as many parts of the world come together in remembrance.

I really don't like to compare sport to war, it's just not the same.

James Graham

Both sides will wear commemorative poppy jerseys with a moment silence and laying of wreaths to be conducted pre-game.

"Everyone should know and remember why we have the freedom we do today and why we have the lives we have today," Watene-Zelezniak said.

"It's not because of the way we live our lives but the people before us defended our countries and did us proud."

Headgear to Helmets

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

Major Partner

Apparel Partners

Icon Partners

View All Partners