Mischievous Tomkins seeks rise to hero status
In-form full-back can announce himself on global stage by inspiring England to victory in the Four Nations final
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Friday 18 November 2011
The Tomkins brothers have gone their separate ways, but if that disappoints England's full-back in any way, he has disguised it well in the Four Nations.
While Joel Tomkins has started his rugby union education at Saracens, Sam, widely supposed to be following him, is thriving in rugby league as never before.
His form in the tournament so far is so good that a repeat in tomorrow's final against Australia should see him hailed as a national hero. Joel, himself an England league international and a certainty for this tournament before he pulled out, might now be earning more, but there is no need for any sibling envy from a younger brother who has signed one of Wigan's biggest-ever contracts to stay in league for at least another three years.
"I've spoken to Joel a couple of times and he's started training. He keeps playing the ball and tackling people and running back 10 metres," he says.
As for Sam, there is the stability of knowing what the immediate future holds. "It's always nice to know what you're going to be doing. I don't think it affected me, but it's good to know what I'm doing for the next three years – or five," he says teasingly.
On and off the field, there is an engaging sense of mischief about Tomkins. Nothing wrong with that, although you might not agree if you are one of the Leeds fans who have been known to boo him in an England shirt. During this tournament, however, there has been barely a trace of the animosity he can arouse in opposing clubs' fans. "All I've heard is Wigan fans messing about," he says. "It's good to have England supporters behind me."
The final gives Tomkins the opportunity to showcase his talents on a broader stage, both in terms of national profile and his world-wide status. He is the leading British contender for the Golden Boot, as the world's best player, after being ignored, like every other Englishman, at the rival International Player of the Year awards recently. "It was like the Aussie-Kiwi awards," he says. "I don't know why we went. Having said that, it's up to ourselves to improve and get our names up there."
One treat spectators at Elland Road will be denied is the chance to compare Tomkins with Billy Slater, the Australian full-back – and twice World Player of the Year – whose buccaneering style his most resembles. Slater is out with a broken collarbone and there is no sophistry from Tomkins when he is asked whether he is sorry not to be facing him.
"Not at all," he says. "It probably helps us a bit. He's the best player in the world. Of course we're glad he's not playing."
Tomkins, not one for false modesty, still puts himself several strides behind Slater. If he can inspire his country to victory at Elland Road, others might beg to differ.
His mother, father and a gang of other relatives will be there to see whether he can do it, but not Joel. "He'll be training," says his brother. Joel has a new game to learn, but tomorrow might be one day when he suffers a twinge or two of sibling jealousy. Nor should he expect any family favours if plans for a Wigan-Saracens match come to fruition.
"If it ever comes to a cross-code game, I might have to smash him," Sam replied to one tweet this week, like the irrepressible little brother he is.
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