Golden Graham?

JAMES Graham has been nominated for the prestigous 2011 Rugby League World Golden Boot.

He joins Sam Tomkins and Ryan Hall alongside Darren Lockyer, Cameron Smith and half-back Johnathan Thurston.

It’s the first time the shortlist has included an equal number of Englishmen to Australians and reflects the growing stature of Steve McNamara’s team on the international stage as they head to Leeds for the Gillette Four Nations Final showdown against last year’s runners up.

The winner award will be decided by a panel featuring a host of former Golden Boot winners including Ellery Hanley, Garry Schofield (Great Britain), Wally Lewis, Brett Kenny (Australia), Stacey Jones and Hugh McGahan (New Zealand).

The panel also includes former NSW Origin coach Phil Gould, Papua New Guinea legend Stanley Gene, former Australian Test forward Mark Geyer, Rugby League World columnist and Sky Sports analyst Jon Wells and members of the international media.

Fans will also be given their say on the panel via social media.

The full result of the vote and the name of this year’s winner will be revealed in issue 369 of Rugby League World on December 2.

Though the shortlist is currently six-strong, a wildcard option is available to add another player after the Four Nations Final.

Rugby League World editor John Drake explained: “Our shortlist contains six players who we believe would walk into any Rugby League team, anywhere in the world. Their selection is backed up by strong and consistent domestic performances throughout the year, but with particular emphasis on performances at international level too.

“Darren Lockyer is quite simply a Rugby League legend. Cameron Smith was Man of the Series in Origin and was named Hooker of the Year by the RLIF. Both have won the Golden Boot before. Johnathan Thurston is RLIF Half-back of the Year, an Origin winner with Queensland and is currently thrilling fans in the UK with stand-out performances in the Four Nations.

“The three England players are there completely on merit. Ryan Hall is a Super League champion with his club Leeds Rhinos and has scored some spectacular winger’s tries in this tournament against both Australia and New Zealand. Sam Tomkins has been in sensational form for England with five tries to his name and enjoyed a Challenge Cup winning season with Wigan. “James Graham is the granite in the England pack, a Golden Boot nominee last season, he made it to another Grand Final with Saints.

“The Golden Boot goes to the best player in the world, and the best players usually reserve their best performances for the biggest games. They don’t come any bigger than the Four Nations final.

“We reserve the right to reward a standout performance in the final with a place on our shortlist through the wildcard option, which we first introduced last year. It’s a tough decision to limit the shortlist to six, and there are several outstanding players who will be appearing in the final who were unlucky to miss out, but the chance is still open to them.”

Two players who might have been expected to make the shortlist, but won’t have the opportunity to grab the wildcard lifeline, are last year’s winner, Benji Marshall whose Kiwi side failed to reach Elland Road after their 28-6 defeat to England, and perhaps the most surprising omission of all, Dally M Medal winner and RLIF International Player of the Year, Australia’s Billy Slater.

“Billy Slater is without doubt a world class player and would almost certainly have made our shortlist under normal circumstances, ” John continued. “He won the Golden Boot in 2008 so he has already proven he possesses all the qualities we look for in our winners, but sadly, the injury which saw him leave the field against England at Wembley has proved crucial to our decision not to include him on this year’s shortlist.

“There’s a reason we wait until after the final international game of the season to decide the Golden Boot, and that is you can never tell what is going to happen, which players will rise to the very peak of performance when it truly matters and which players will just fall short, despite an otherwise outstanding year. Billy falls into this category, with his injury costing him the opportunity to dazzle us all once more in the biggest international game of the season. But, there’s no doubting a player of his incredible talent will be back for another crack at winning the Golden Boot next year.”

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