In a Challenge Cup final today which, for all manner of historic reasons, stirs great expectations, there is one player, above all the others, who demands to be watched.
Wigan’s Sam Tomkins is the short-priced favourite to win the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match – on the ground where he caused a major incident on his last appearance there with the club. He could also be waving a sort of farewell to the British game, although there are still the small matters of a play-off series and a World Cup to be negotiated before he joins the New Zealand Warriors.
At Wembley two years ago, Tomkins celebrated the opening try by Josh Charnley by flashing a V-sign at the Leeds fans who had been winding him up all afternoon. He was fined by his club and the Rugby League – something he has described mischievously since as “money well spent”.
Tomkins is a much more mature player now – and much harder to distract. That is just as well, considering that the last six months have been a constant round of answering the same question, or perhaps more accurately, avoiding it. It centred on where he is going to be playing next year and the reply has been consistent.
“It’s the same bullshit answer,” he said this week. “I’ve signed nothing and I’m concentrating on Wigan.” Even the dogs in the streets of Auckland, however, seem to know that he is going to be playing for the New Zealand Warriors next season. Certainly, their assistant coach, Tony Iro, a former Wigan player, did not even trouble to deny it during his visit to England this week.
“It’s a great signing for the Warriors,” he said. “Obviously, it’s [the National Rugby League] a tough competition, but to anyone that has any doubts about him making it, I can tell them that he’s got it. He can really play the game.”
However, what about another game with which he has been linked? Anything to report on the rugby union front? “I’d never say never,” Tomkins said. “Rugby union does have a pull on me, the international game being what it is, but it’s a long way down the line.
“There’s a lot of things I’d like to do. I’d like to live in the South for a while. If the London Broncos were a better team, that would appeal.”
There will be more of that sort of thing, but right now a Challenge Cup final at Wembley is giving him enough to concentrate on. “When you’ve won there once and you know how good it is, you just want to it again.” But maybe only once more.