Chris Rattue

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

Tomkins: Once a Wigan Warrior, now a New Zealand Warrior

Sam Tomkins is keen to make an impression. Photo / Greg Bowker
Sam Tomkins is keen to make an impression. Photo / Greg Bowker

Sam Tomkins was still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes when we caught up with him at Eden Park, and little wonder. Having arrived on an early morning flight, he was hurled into a series of engagements during the week.

The idea was to get the media and sponsor duties out of the way so the England league fullback is free to hit the ground running when he returns next month to prepare for the Warriors' 2014 NRL campaign.

The 24-year-old, signed from Wigan for three years, has been a headline act in English league although opposing fans love to target the little tryscoring matchwinner, as forum sites show. Tomkins proved an engaging sport as he chatted with the Herald.

The Warriors play three games at Eden Park next season ...

I played here for England against Papua New Guinea in 2010 before Australia played the Kiwis.

Our changing rooms were terrible - we had expected vast ones in such a big stadium.

It's not exactly an intimate English ground ...

These are the places you really want to play at. In England, the touchlines are right next to the stands, more so than in the NRL, but with enough people in here you get a great atmosphere.

Your older brother Joel plays union for England and younger brother Logan is in the Wigan squad. Safe to assume you had a sporty upbringing.

My dad was a big league fan and took us to games. As kids, my brothers and I were sports-mad.

Childhood hero?

All my family comes from Warrington and (Australian league legend) Alfie Langer was the first bloke I looked up to when he played for them. He was this little bald guy who turned up, and I thought he was the man.

You've run the gauntlet in England ...

I've had plenty of stick from fans. When I was playing for England at Leeds I got booed every time I caught the ball. It probably didn't help that when I played a Challenge Cup final at Wembley I gave Leeds fans the fingers after we scored. It wasn't one of my best ideas. It was a rush of blood and not something I'd do again.

Your career highlight?

My last game in a Wigan shirt, the Super League grand final. I get goose bumps thinking about it. We were down 16-2 at halftime and won it. It was unbelievable, to be on the pitch with 12 of my best mates, having won everything. I've been in the club since I was 11 and known a lot of those lads all that time. I'll be a Wigan Warriors fan for life.

So leaving Wigan was hard ...

It was difficult, leaving my best mates at a club where I was well looked after. I told our owner Ian Lenagan I wanted a crack at the NRL. I can't repeat some of the things he said. He'd just signed me on a five-year contract that had a three-year clause preventing me from speaking to other clubs. They had thought I was going to rugby union and put a deal together worth far more money than I ever thought possible. A year later, I wanted to leave. I wondered sometimes if I was doing the right thing, but now I think I definitely have.

Lowlight?

My international career. We've been beaten by Australia and the Kiwis too often. No one goes through unbeaten in club seasons anymore. But if you play only three or four internationals a year and badly in two of them, that's like playing badly in 22 club games.

What was the England dressing room like after the Kiwis snatched the league World Cup semifinal victory at Wembley?

Devastated. Everyone was quiet - no one knew what to say. We didn't feel hard done by but we felt we were the better side and let it go. It was gutting.

Richie Barnett, a Kiwi selector and former test fullback, suggests you should operate more as a wide sweeping runner than a playmaker from fullback ...

I won't be doing that. I started as a six [standoff] and still play a bit like one sometimes. I've found my formula, the way I play, and try to perfect that.

Is there anything you would like changed in league?

We've got a great product, the best sport in the world, and I don't say that lightly. I've enjoyed playing in the Super League but it lacks the exposure and publicity the NRL gets. I'm looking forward to being in a competition that gets what it deserves.

You are bringing an old mate with you ...

We met when we were 7 and have been best mates since then. He lives with me now in England. He's a fully qualified electrician so he'll try to get a job out here. [Warriors utility] Thomas Leuluai is one of my closest friends anyway, and his girlfriend Natalie is a Wigan girl who I've known for years. So I know people here already.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

Stick at it. I was never a star at 16, 17. The club offered me pay as you play - 25 for a win - in the academy and I thought maybe rugby was not what I was going to do. I doubted myself a little, but people said stick at it. I wasn't very mature as a kid - I was too skinny.

We can see a bit of paint?

I've got Wigan ones [tattoos] including a Challenge Cup one on my leg ... they are the only ones with any meaning.

What has your brother Joel said about playing rugby?

I'm not one of those people that is 100 per cent league and doesn't like union. The players get looked after brilliantly in rugby union and he's taken to it like a duck to water. Within two years of switching codes he's on the international stage [playing at centre for Saracens and England]. I'd like to give union a go at some point.

- NZ Herald

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