Laffranchi out to match Graham
Anthony Laffranchi is proud of the way he has filled the boots of James Graham and is now hoping to emulate the St Helens legend by reaching a Grand Final in his first season with a new club.
The 30-year-old former Wests Tigers and Gold Coast back rower was signed by coach Royce Simmons 12 months ago as a replacement for Graham, who ended his nine-year stay at Saints to try his luck in Australia’s National Rugby League with Canterbury Bulldogs.
The England prop has been an instant success with the Bulldogs, playing a key role in their run to Sunday’s Grand Final, in which they will meet favourites Melbourne Storm, and Laffranchi is hoping by then to have clinched a place in the Stobart Super League Grand Final.
Saints take on Warrington Wolves in the second semi-final at Langtree Park on Saturday evening aiming to reach Old Trafford for the seventh consecutive year and “Boof” Laffranchi is sure to be at the heart of their efforts.
“Boof has been outstanding,” said St Helens caretaker coach Mike Rush. “He’s probably been our most consistent player, along with Sia Soliola.
“He’s an absolute model professional and a tremendous leader, at training and on the field. The attitude he displays to the younger players is phenomenal.
“He was a real good signing by Royce. He has been a major coup for us and someone I hope will stay at the club for the long term because he’s got a few years left in him.
“Moving from the back row to the front row so effortlessly shows the quality he’s got.”
Laffranchi, who won five caps for Australia and played against England for the Exiles this year, relished the chance to help plug the gap created by Graham’s departure.
“There’s probably a bit of pressure filling James’ boots but, as a player, you want to test yourself,” he said.
“He’s been a quality front rower for the club for a long period of time and I was excited by the challenge of coming over here and putting my own stamp on the game and challenging myself again in a different league.
“Replacing a quality player was something I was thriving on. I’m happy with the way things have turned out. I’ve really enjoyed my time at Saints.
“I said from the beginning I wasn’t going play like James Graham; I’ll play like Anthony Laffranchi and bring my aspects to the game.”
A place at Old Trafford was a distant prospect six weeks into Laffranchi’s first season in England when Simmons was sacked with Saints sitting outside the top eight.
But they turned their fortunes around under Rush and Keiron Cunningham and have typically hit their straps with the finishing line in sight, securing their place in the last four with a notable win at Warrington.
“It was unfortunate that things didn’t work out with Simmo,” Laffranchi said. “He worked hard to get me over here.
“But things turned around and, under Rushy and Keiron, we strung a few good months together.
“We worked our way back up the table to finish third and we’ve kicked on from there.
“Once we gained some confidence in the new structures, we got some momentum.
“It’s a different ball game for the play-offs. We were happy with the way we performed at Warrington but they turned it around against Hull and it’s going to be another level again.”
Meanwhile, Laffranchi will be keeping a close eye on the NRL Grand Final and is hoping he and Graham can pull off a memorable double.
“That would be great,” he said. “We could probably trade shirts if we both come out victors.
“He’s turned it around over there. The Bulldogs have had a fantastic year, definitely off the back of some of the things that James has been doing with their forward pack.
“I wish him all the best for this Sunday and I think they’re a fair chance. They might just surprise everyone.”