Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Tomkins struggles for space

Sam Tomkins has averaged around a try a game in Super League but struggled to find the same kind of space at the World Cup. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Tomkins has averaged around a try a game in Super League but struggled to find the same kind of space at the World Cup. Photo / Getty Images

Will Super-Sam be Superman? As well as watching the Kiwis with close interest, the league community in this country has spent much of the World Cup assessing the merits of Sam Tomkins.

The new Warriors fullback - said to be the most expensive player in the world after the huge deal to bring him to Auckland - was always going to be under the microscope next season but the past six weeks have been a sneak preview.

It has also confirmed he has extreme talent and potential but there may be a degree of adjustment to the NRL which will ultimately define how successful he can become in Australasia.

"It's clear he has all the attributes to succeed in the NRL," says former Kiwis and Roosters fullback Richie Barnett. "He has genuine pace, is deceptively strong and tough and good at creating space for his outsides. If the team uses him properly, there is a lot of potency there but he has a lot of adjusting to do. [Much] will depend on his attitude but he seems determined to succeed in the NRL and is coming for the right reasons, which is important."

Barnett felt that during the tournament, Tomkins was sometimes guilty of forcing the issue, getting too involved in the middle of the field instead of waiting for opportunities on the outside.

"His skill is out wide," says Barnett, "especially as a sweeping runner. He needs to be at the end of the backline - that is where he is most dangerous. He doesn't need to force things; with his skills, if he does the simple things well, everything else will come."

Surprisingly Tomkins didn't cross for a try in the tournament, though he was involved in the creation of several. The 24-year-old was closely marked and, especially against Australia and New Zealand, struggled to find gaps that are more common in Super League, where he has averaged almost a try a game.

"He can make things happen," says former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott, who has closely observed Tomkins since he first came through the grades at Wigan. "We all know the great skills he has - that is obvious. He will find it a lot tougher to find space but he has a priceless knack of scoring tries and that is not something you lose."

Tomkins' impending arrival seems to have brought the best out of Kevin Locke. The Warriors fullback displaced Josh Hoffman (to the surprise of many) for the semifinal and this morning's final, after being on the fringe of the Kiwis environment for the past few years.

He has looked sharp on attack and committed on defence, backing up his comments that he is prepared for fight for the Warriors No1 jersey. However, it is hard to see Tomkins spending much time on the bench or playing NSW Cup.

"[Tomkins] will bring great professionalism to the Warriors, on and off the field," says Endacott. "He will be more than just a player for the Warriors, though only time will tell if he is worth the money."

The Warriors have broken the bank to lure the English star, paying sums reserved for those at the top of the sport. The Auckland club has had mixed success with big money buys in the past. Steve Price, Ruben Wiki and to a lesser extent Brent Tate delivered great value, while others such as Dennis Betts, Andy Platt, Greg Alexander and Matthew Ridge did less to justify the huge investment in them.

Tomkins will visit Auckland next week to meet Warriors players and staff, as well as engaging in several promotional opportunities.

As unfair as it seems, he will be expected to play a major role in transforming the Warriors from dangerous but inconsistent outsiders of 2013 to genuine contenders in 2014.

Although the position of fullback has become increasingly important and influential in the last few years, some things in league don't change.

Success still depends on the ability of the playmakers - the halves and hooker - to create openings and the ability of the front row, in particular, to create momentum.

Tomkins can add a sharper edge, especially in his ability to back up half-breaks, something that has been missing at Mt Smart since the days of Wade McKinnon.

However, he can't alone be a catalyst in the manner of Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Paul Gallen or Daly Cherry-Evans.

"Money clouds people's judgement," says Barnett. "Hopefully we can talk less about the money. We have to remember - one man can't change a team. It has never, ever worked like that in the past and it never will ... but he can have a great impact."

- Herald on Sunday

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