Tomkins, the Wigan legend in the making, relishes final buzz - Rugby League - More Sports - The Independent

Tomkins, the Wigan legend in the making, relishes final buzz

Young star excited by date at Wembley as former players line up to hail him the future of the club

Sam Tomkins, potentially the great Wigan player of his generation, goes into his first Challenge Cup final today with many a sound judge comparing him to club greats of yesteryear, Ellery Hanley and Shaun Edwards. No pressure then.

Tomkins has met Edwards once and says he was too tongue-tied to talk to him and flattered though he is by those comparisons, he says they are premature. "It's nice to hear, but I'm a way off Ellery and Shaun. They're a bit out of my league just yet."

Their level of achievement is certainly a long way removed from the uncertain start to Tomkins' own playing career, when he could easily have been lost to the game at 16. "Wigan were offering contracts and they didn't offer me one," Tomkins says. Instead, they told him he could stick around and play on a match-by-match basis, at a princely £25 a game. "At the time, I thought maybe it wasn't for me. There were other lads in my age-group getting three- and four-year contracts.

"Shaun Wane was the Under-18s coach at the time and he wouldn't pick me for anything. Every week I'd ask him if I was in and he'd tell me no and I'd be carrying the water again. I did that for a year."

Tomkins' breakthrough came in unusual circumstances. Six Wigan players were suspended after a mass brawl, so Wane had little choice but to pick him. Frustrating though the wait had been, he now believes Wane – who will be unveiled as Wigan's new head coach at some stage after the final – had a point. "I was very light," he says, "and my defence wasn't great."

You cannot say either of those things about him now, the combination of a growth spurt and Wigan's emphasis on strength and conditioning has seen to that.

It is, though, his astonishing broken-field running that makes him hot favourite to win the Lance Todd and Wigan equally short-odds to win the Cup. "I don't think there's too much pressure," he says. "As a team, we're confident of what we can do. We want to perform the way we have done for the last couple of months."

Those recent months have seen Tomkins produce some memorable performances and some unforgettable tries. Although he drives opposition fans mad with a confidence verging on cockiness, it is hard even for them not to respond to the sheer exuberance of his play.

"Life's really good at the moment. There's nothing else in the world I'd rather be doing than playing rugby and getting to finals. It's a good time to be at the club. There's a buzz around the club and the town."

Much of that excitement revolves around a lad who was not considered good enough at 16, but who is now having to adjust to a degree of adulation and praise that is unusual in rugby league.

Andy Gregory, who won the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match in the victories of 1988 and 1990, said this week that Tomkins has the ability to follow in those footsteps.

"Sam has all the skills of a world-class player and I think he has what it takes to have a massive final," said the former Wigan and Great Britain scrum-half. "If Leeds are going to stand any chance of winning, they are going to have to stop Sam and that's easier said than done,because he reads the game so well."

Edwards never won the Lance Todd, but if there was a lifetime award for achievements at Wembley, his record nine Cup wins would entitle him to it.

He picks out some other aspects of his approach that make Tomkins special. "He's really dedicated to his profession," he says. "He's in great physical shape and he's the sort of player people pay money to watch.

"He's also very durable. They hit him and he just gets up. He's got that wiry strength."

Whilst it is his instinctive, individual tries that lodge so firmly in the popular memory, Edwards stresses the way that Tomkins fits into a team pattern; his support play, in fact, has been compared to Edwards' own in his heyday.

"Full-back is a great position to back up from. You've got a lot of freedom there to get on the end of things," says Edwards, who hopes to get to the final, Wasps and Wales commitments permitting.

He does not expect to see Tomkins overawed by the experience. "He's already played in a Grand Final and taken that in his stride," he says. "I'm really confident that he will shine and Wigan will win the match because of their teamwork."

And back to that adulation. "I can be on a night out in Manchester," says Tomkins, "and some bloke, 40-odd years old, will come up and ask you to sign his napkin. It's a bit different, but I enjoy it."

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week