League: Can Tomkins' brilliance lift the Warriors?

By Michael Brown

In an exclusive interview, Warriors recruit Sam Tomkins says it was work as a greenkeeper that taught him to appreciate his life as a professional sportsman.

Sam Tomkins says that after his Wigan years, settling into a new team has been a welcome challenge. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Sam Tomkins says that after his Wigan years, settling into a new team has been a welcome challenge. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Sam Tomkins always thought his future would be in golf. It wasn't that he had any particular talent in the sport - in fact, he was quite ordinary - but Tomkins mapped out a future as a greenkeeper because he doubted he would ever make it as a league player.

He was on Wigan's books from the age of 12, first on a scholarship and then within their academy. He showed promise, but there were plenty of players ahead of him, many of whom seemed destined for greater things than the diminutive playmaker.

"When I was in school, we had to do work experience for two weeks in Year 10," Tomkins says. "My uncle said he would find me an easy job, which turned out to be greenkeeping. I really enjoyed it. I spent the school holidays on the course and, when I left school ... I got an apprenticeship.

"At that stage, I was on a pay-as-you-play arrangement. I used to get 25 quid if I played and we won and that was it.

I needed a job.

"That background helps me appreciate what I have. There were other lads being paid a few thousand quid who I thought would go on and do things like this. It's good I had that experience and I wouldn't change it for the world; I had to go out and get a job and work a bit harder than a lot of others. It has helped make me a better player."

It helped him become one of the world's best fullbacks and a player the Warriors wanted. They were prepared to pay a reported $700,000 transfer fee to Wigan - he still had three years on his contract - and what can be assumed to be one of the top wages at the club.

But Eric Watson and Owen Glenn declared in 2012 they wanted to turn the Warriors into the "best sporting franchise in Australasia" and securing someone of Tomkins' talent could only help. Watson has already said the 24-year-old was worth every cent and, if he can come close to the sort of try-scoring feats he achieved at Wigan (144 tries in 151 games), he'll be a hit.

There has been as much excitment about Tomkins' arrival as for the combined signings of Steve Price and Ruben Wiki for the 2005 season.

It has brought increased hope and expectation to long-suffering Warriors fans.

"People say there's more pressure because the Warriors paid a transfer fee to secure me," he says. "I don't see it like that because I put pressure on myself to perform. I don't need a transfer fee to inspire me and, in that sense, it doesn't really affect me."

We've already seen flashes of what he's capable of. Few fullbacks play in the line as much as Tomkins does, which means he adds another playmaking option, and he seems to be developing a good combination with halfback Shaun Johnson.

Add in speed, intelligence and an unparalleled competitiveness and it's little wonder he's being widely tipped to be the signing of the NRL season.

The playoffs are a minimum requirement for the Warriors this season. They are building good depth and there's a greater understanding between the players and coach Matt Elliott.

It's taken time for Tomkins to adjust. He has never lived far from home and admits he could have played out his career at Wigan and enjoyed the security of familiar faces around him.

But at 24, and having won just about everything he could in his time at Wigan - two UK Super League grand finals, two Challenge Cups, 2012 Man of Steel as the league's best player - he decided he not only wanted to test himself in the NRL while still in his prime but also be forced outside his comfort zone.

"One of the biggest challenges is going to a team I don't know," he says. "I soon realised every team has the same sort of dynamic and characters. What's been more difficult is adapting to... the structures of the team. When I was at Wigan, I was playing with some of those lads for seven, eight years.

"I've spent a lot of time in training trying to get used to different combinations. Once you play with someone for a while, you get used to it. That's why I'm looking forward to Thomas Leuluai being fit. He knows my game inside out and has added more to it than any other player. He was a big factor in me coming here as well."

Tomkins and Leuluai were teammates at Wigan but Leuluai is still at least a couple of weeks away from returning to the field as he recovers from the groin injury that wrecked his World Cup campaign.

Tomkins' World Cup was ruined by some players he now calls teammates, Johnson scoring a dramatic late winner for the Kiwis at Wembley in their semifinal win over England.

Tomkins soon put that disappointment behind him and, like any player in any team, is excited about the NRL season that kicked off last night.

"We have potential to do well," he says of the Warriors. "We've trained really hard and things are clicking ... I'm excited more than anything about playing the Eels on Sunday and making my Warriors debut. It feels like I've been waiting a while because it's along time since I decided I wantedto come to the NRL.

"As for my role, I don't think you can ease yourself into a league game.

It's not a case of dipping your toe in the water and seeing how it is. You just have to throw your body in and hopefully we'll play as we've practised these last few months and it'll work out well."

Better than a golfing career, anyway.

- NZ Herald

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