Graham Harriman suspected he might get the call. He knew he was going to be named as a sub for the USA’s game against the Maori All Blacks, but he also knew that Scott LaValla was trying to deal with an injury.
Be ready, he was told, and he was.
Thought of by many, including the reporters here at RUGBYMag.com, as a backup, a guy filling in for the likes of Brian Doyle and Lou Stanfill, Harriman wanted to be more than just a stopgap player. The 6-6, 250-lb 26-year-old from Eden Prarie, Minn. felt he could do more than just keep the seat warm.
“I always had the mentality that I was ready to go,” Harriman told RUGBYMag.com. “I found out I was starting the night before, but the whole week I was getting a lot of reps. I know I was in the back a bit behind Brian and Lou, but because of that, it’s on me to put more work in. I know I just have to keep on working.”
Harriman has sometimes struggled. The University of Minnesota-Duluth alum who began playing in his sophomore year, took a detour to South Africa to learn, and played with the Chicago Griffins before switching to Metropolis. That switch is a story, too, of a setback leading to an opportunity. Harriman was supposed to sign on with a club in Northern Ireland. So, in anticipation of that, this summer he moved all his stuff back to his home state of Minnesota. When the work visa fell through, he had nowhere else to go.
The move, though, proved beneficial for both club and player.
“He’s been great,” said Metropolis Player-Coach Nate Osborn. “He never came in with the attitude that ‘I’m an Eagle and I know it all.’ He wanted to learn. His attitude, and how hard he works, has rubbed off on the guys.”
“I just wanted an opportunity to play,” said Harriman. “I missed the first game against Kansas City, but then when I came in I told Nate, whose a good coach and an all-around good guy, that I was here to learn, and if I saw something I would talk to him and maybe he would use it, or not.”
In fact, Harriman helped make a few changes in the lineout calls, and mentored Nick Barrett, who could well be playing with a 4 or 5 on his back and an eagle on his chest sometime soon.
But the words Harriman kept using was “learn.” He learned a lot, wanted to learn, and was always looking to learn.
Another word you heard from the former ice hockey defenseman is “work.”
It’s his work rate that has made many take notice since the ARC and his excellent performance against the Maori on Saturday.
“I've been playing for just six or seven years now, and I have learned from a lot of different coaches, and one of the things I learn from them is that work rate is a huge thing for a lock,” he explained. “At the international level, you’re not always touching the ball, but you’re doing a lot of work. They might not be big, noticeable things, but they’re important, like making sure the ball’s secure. Getting to a ruck and not just being there, but doing something. Tackling, defense, offense, working at the rucks, it’s about fitness but fitness works hand-in-hand with work rate.”
That’s what Harriman did on Saturday. He made tackles, cleared out in rucks, and when the ball was just lying there, he’s truck it up to make more yardage, or grab onto it to steal it for his teammates.
“A big part of what we’re trying to do is not to stick too much into the systems,” said Harriman. “We have a system, but you also need to make a decision. If you’ve got momentum going forward, then you’ve got to keep it going. If you’re a lock, a wing, or a center, if the ball’s there and you’ve got guys with you, it can be faster to pick it up and just go.”
Another big part of Saturday’s performance was in the lineout. Harriman is an effective lineout jumper, but he’s not the only one. Cam Dolan and Todd Clever do pretty well in that department, too. But where Harriman made an impact was in disrupting Maori lineout ball.
“Stealing lineout ball is something I’ve done since college and something I enjoy doing,” he told RUGBYMag.com. “Nothing beats taking away someone's ball. So I’ve been working on my jumping and being athletic. Cam Dolan and I are good at communicating what we’re going to do, and that’s great. But if you’re one of the tallest guys on the field, you shouldn’t just be standing there.”
Well he wasn’t doing that. For his work rate, and for his impressive improvement over this fall, Graham Harriman is our Rhino Rugby/RUGBYMag Player of the Week.