Sam Tomkins: Rugby League Genius

This Saturday I'll be watching Sam Tomkins' God-given talent on display at Wembley Stadium, who's with me?
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This Saturday I'll be watching Sam Tomkins' God-given talent on display at Wembley Stadium, who's with me?

Samuel Levi Tomkins may sound like a character from a Charles Dickens novel, a man from another age if you like.

He is nothing of the kind - but he is from a different world when it comes to his chosen occupation as a professional rugby league player for Wigan Warriors and this Saturday his God-given talent will be on show at Wembley Stadium.

Whilst Wigan Rugby League Football Club and Wembley go together like spotted dick and custard it is worth noting that this is Wigan’s first appearance there since 1998 as a combination of indifferent form from the club and the redevelopment of the Old Lady has meant the Cherry and Whites have been a much-missed visitor.

Some may stay they are back at their rightful second home with 17 Challenge Cup victories including eight successive wins between 1988 and 1995 behind them.

However while the build-up for Saturday’s game against Leeds Rhinos may touch on the history of the club it will be the precocious talent of 22-year-old Sam Tomkins than will garner the most column inches.

And for once that will be absolutely correct for Tomkins is at athlete of amazing ability!

The kid that was born in Milton Keynes before his northern family moved “home”, when Tomkins aged nine, started playing for the Chorley Panthers before moving to the acclaimed Wigan St. Patricks amateur side.

In 2007 he joined his older brother Joel Tomkins at Wigan Warriors (younger brother Logan is also now at the Warriors) and within two years the whispers about this “special player” in the academy had turned into gasps of admiration as he starred for the first team.

In 2009 in his first season he established himself as Wigan's first choice stand-off and received the club's Player of the Year and the Super League's Young Player of the Year awards.

In 2010 Wigan recruited Michael Maguire from the Melbourne Storm as head coach (and despite starting Tomkins at number six) he made the bold decision to move Tompkins to full-back and whilst the internet message boards, tap rooms and clubs buzzed with discussions about the merits of this decision it was the making of the young man.

In truth he could probably play anywhere across the backline and that season he played in every match with the team finishing top of the league table and winning the League Leader's Shield before beating St Helens in the Grand Final to give the club their first league title since 1998.

Whilst it was a joy to watch Tomkins in action the greatest delight for Wigan fans was to watch a team playing as just that – “a team”.

There is a collective intake of breath when he has the ball in preparation of something happening.

Maguire’s ability as a coach was there for all to see as he turned a group of disparate talents into a winning unit.

With an incredible – if controversial - defence this allowed the young guns and old Turks to flourish as the team brought home the Grand Final Trophy.

This season it was made clear that the Challenge Cup was on the agenda and Wigan have excelled pretty much every week and while the crowd still relishes the expertise of Maguire and the commitment of all 17 players on the pitch many are there just to see Tomkins with the ball.

I know that for sure as I am one of them.

There is a collective intake of breath when he has the ball in preparation of something happening.

With the freedom that playing at full back brings and with Tomkins lethal in open (and especially) broken play he has already notched up 31 tries.

He has whippet-like speed, can step off either foot and spots gaps that others can only dream about.

His pass off either hand is immense, he can go short or long and will take the opposing pack on from an attacking or defensive position.

Any loose kicks will be swallowed up by him and his counter attack will put the opposition on the back foot and as he showed against St Helens in the semi-final and last week in the Super League against Bradford Bulls he can go the length of the pitch to score.

His handling is exemplary; he can pick up the ball in one hand, offload out the tackle and rarely loses it in the high impact sport that is rugby league.

Yet he is at his best when he gets sight of the white line, when he draws men in and passes at just the right time or simply puts his foot on the gas, steps one way or the other, goes low and slides in for a try.

Of course he isn’t the complete player – yet!

His defence is solid if not spectacular and his kicking game can be improved but that will come.

For now he is the best young rugby player (of either code) and the most exciting sportsmen in this country.

He also has that arrogance that only such immense ability can bring.

He’ll think nothing of whacking somebody twice his size and he infuriates opposing fans to such an extent that supporters from other clubs booed him when playing for England against the Exiles at Headingley.

With Rugby Union and the NRL undoubtedly sniffing around (there are already comparisons with Aussie great Billy Slater doing the rounds) he has signed a new five-year-deal with Wigan and whilst (my guess is) he may very well go to Australia at some time his current presence in British sport should be relished.

Whatever your chosen sport – and if you are not at Wembley - this Saturday is an ideal time to get a few cans of beer in, settle down in front of the television and watch not only a great game of rugby league but also witness a player that – while not yet at the top of his game – is a truly individual talent.

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