One of the biggest stories of the weekend was Rio Ferdinand’s appearance at Headingley stadium on Friday night. During Wigan’s nine-try onslaught of Leeds Rio tweeted, ‘@samtomkins1 WOW!!!’
Ferdinand’s assessment is more than fair. Amongst the press on Friday night there were echoes of, ‘he’s good in’t he?!’ Even the nearby Leeds fans eventually stopped booing Sam Tomkins and started heckling their own team towards the end.
Sam Tomkins is probably the most written about man in rugby league at the moment and even if you have absolutely no interest in the sport and haven’t heard the name then it is imperative that you do so immediately. There is a serious deficit in your life for not having seen him play.
Like many other league greats, Sam climbed the ranks at Wigan Academy and Wikipedia informs me that he was the first man to score five tries on his debut (an unreliable source, perhaps, but rugby league fans are particularly vigilant). In the debut, which was a Challenge Cup match against Whitehaven, he left defenders standing bemused and has continued to do so to teams of all calibre's ever since. He was originally a stand-off before eagle-eyed ex-Wigan coach Michael Maguire saw his potential as a full back and the rest, as they say, is history.
Tomkins is still only 23 and, like all naturally great players, fans from other teams don’t like him much. Last year he was booed during an international fixture at Headingley (by all but Wigan fans of course) and the media storm whipped up all manner of defences and urges for national pride as a result. I think it was a compliment though, if there was one player you wished was playing with rather than against you it would be him and readers of the League Express reaffirmed their admiration for him when they voted him Player of the Year last season.
Wigan did extremely well to keep Tomkins when they extended his contract until 2015 with a clause that he is unable to speak with NRL and union teams. Especially as his brother Joel was switching codes from Wigan to Saracens at the time and, given the lines that he is able to cut almost poetically; Sam could and probably would be very potent in rugby union.
During Friday’s slaughtering of Leeds he showed why he was worth every penny even without putting a single point on the board himself. There were nine tries scored and when I watched the game again this morning I realised that Tomkins was involved in all but the first and last try.
Tomkins is what you would a try machine. He is simply one of those players that you would never ever get good ‘try anytime’ odds for and his main talent lies his ability to be absolutely everywhere. I was watching him on Friday and it is incredible that he just slips through some of the best players in the game and leaves them standing stumped. He’s got something in him that just feels instinctive, he runs rings around defenders and he had a hand in no fewer than seven tries.
First he made a break to offload to Liam Farrell, then he set up Sean O’Loughlin, George Carmont, he wove across the pitch and through defenders for a third set up, he retrieved Kevin Sinfield’s chip through, made 40 metres and dodged six defenders and those are just a few of his highlights that contributed to the monumental 50-8 win.
He also does the simple things right. Although he made tries through some intricate and impressive side-stepping, he was also involved in tries that were just simple handling down the line by naturally being in the right place at the right time. So far this season he’s made the second highest assists (and that’s direct assists as opposed to the countless others he's initiated), made the second highest amount of metres, the most tackle busts by a clear 37 more than his closest competitor and the most overall clean breaks.
The media storm surrounding Sam as one of the best players in Super League is supported by statistics and he is always towards the top of the Super League stats by the end of the season. He made the right decision to stay in rugby league until 2015, not just because Wigan rightly offered him a good contract – he’s the most well paid player in the sport – but because he is absolutely incredible at rugby league.
It runs deeper than statistics with Sam and it’s obvious in watching him play that he’s extremely hungry as well as gifted. Even in games that have been obvious walkovers for Wigan from the start he wants to win big. If he does continue his career in rugby league beyond 2015 I truly believe he will go down in history as one of the best players ever.
Memorable Sam Tomkins moments:
1) Sam’s four-try debut against Whitehaven.
2) Sam doing what he does best, running rings around Saints and showing his pace at the Magic Weekend recently.
3) Scoring for the Barbarians last year which sparked speculation that he was ‘trying out’ rugby union.
4) During last year’s Challenge Cup final the Tomkins brothers combine to send Charnley over and Sam’s controversial gesture at Leeds fans became a big talking point afterwards.
5) Finally, Tomkins scores a try even whilst unconscious. That’s commitment.