Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Tomkins looks the goods

Hot-stepping England fullback Sam Tomkins looks set to spark the Warriors in the NRL. Photo / AP
Hot-stepping England fullback Sam Tomkins looks set to spark the Warriors in the NRL. Photo / AP

Sam Tomkins is not so much of a mystery any more, and the Warriors may be on to a good thing with their new England signing.

Those strong enough to brave Mike "Stevo" Stephenson's TV commentaries and dubious English Super League defence will know the Wigan wonder, who joins the New Zealand Warriors on a three-year contract next season.

But to most, rather than being a big name, Tomkins was simply a name, despite being an established international. League may be played seriously only in a couple of backyards, but they are a long way apart with minimal, often low-profile contact.

According to reports, Tomkins will earn about $750,000 a season. That sort of money hasn't been flashed around by the Warriors since the crazy days of Super League, when the Kiwi/Manly great Matthew Ridge and the disappointing English second row star Denis Betts topped the wage bill. In other words, Tomkins must be very good, or else the Warriors are going to look very stupid.

Well, Tomkins did look rather handy, to put it mildly, as England squandered an early advantage against Australia in the opening Rugby League World Cup fixture in Cardiff yesterday morning.

Conditions were not ideal. The ground surface looked more appropriate for the world ploughing championships. The Millennium Stadium needs to start again - maybe Wales could give the people who built the stadiums in Hamilton or Dunedin a call. The breaking Cardiff surface would have left overly tired legs, was so bad it constituted a danger, and made it difficult for the players to strut their best stuff.

Tomkins' rare ability was clear, though. He is a try-scoring sensation with the crowd-pleasing factor in spades. The 24-year-old cuts a kind of muscular yet bony figure, capable of squirming and stepping out of tackles, or through them. The smallest gap is potential prey. He played fullback but also up in the line. His high-jinks will create opportunities for others, so he will inevitably be a challenger for the spirited but less talented Warriors pivot Thomas Leuluai, who he calls a close friend.

Tomkins didn't cut Australia apart, quite, but looked capable of it. According to the official stats, he ran the ball 19 times for more than 100m.

"So is he worth it?" someone asked me, about his staggering Warriors contract. It's a question that can't be answered yet, and value is subjective.

Like any player, he will contribute to and be reliant on what goes on around him at the Auckland club, whose promising signs were kept on a fairly tight leash under coach Matt Elliott this year.

It sounds as though Tomkins will have a blast and move on, though, potentially back to Wigan or union. His older and larger brother Joel switched codes, to Saracens, and has just made the England union squad as a centre.

Tomkins told the Independent newspaper he was very close to joining his brother at Saracens, with his massive fee proving the stumbling block. Sam's dreams still include playing against the All Blacks or Wallabies at Twickenham.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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