Sam Tomkins - the man who would be fullback

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2013
Sam Tomkins
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NEW HOME: Sam Tomkins at his first press conference for his new club, the Warriors.

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Cast your eyes over the ink spread across Sam Tomkins' sinewy body, and you'll read the story of his past. Of his triumphs; his most treasured moments as an athlete, and as a bloke.

Across his right shoulder are flowers that give way to "Wigan Warriors - Super League Champions - 2010 & 2013". Spread over the skin above his right ankle are "Wigan Warriors - Challenge Cup winners - 2011 & 2013".

Those successes with his former Super League club mean the world to Tomkins, who became one of the biggest money signings in league when the Warriors recruited him this year.

Sure, he's only been in town five minutes - but ask him if he'd find a spot for "Warriors - NRL Premiership winners - 2014" on his body, and you'll get a smile in return.

"If we won a title here, I'd get that put on me if we won it. Definitely," Tomkins said.

The 24-year-old fullback is sitting in the stands of Eden Park in Auckland - the ground where he'll play his first home game of his three-year contract against the Dragons on March 15 - and he's tired as hell.

For the past week, Tomkins has been on a near non-stop tour of Auckland. Press conferences, media opportunities, jersey launches, members' barbecues and a bizarre welcome in downtown Auckland merging corporate New Zealand with a Maori culture; it's been full on.

Of course, everyone wants a piece of the action with Tomkins. And why not? The bloke is the goods. Watch him with the ball in hand for Wigan, or England, during the past few years, and you can see why the Warriors have pushed their chips onto his table.

Tomkins, once described as the "English Billy Slater", is super-quick. He's sure-footed. He reads the game like a man with decades of experience, rather than a handful of years. Quite simply, he's one of the best rugby league backs on the planet.

We've heard all the stats and figures trotted out already - 15 tests for England, 144 tries in 151 games for Wigan. Yeah, yeah. But what's the real story of Tomkins.

Born in Milton Keynes on March 24, 1989, Tomkins and his family moved a lot when he was young as his father - a police officer - moved up the ranks.

Eventually, they settled in Chorley, 13km north of the rugby league-mad city of Wigan. English league has been Tomkins' lifeblood since - little else really matters to him.

Tomkins never used to watch NRL games before last year - meaning that when Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah and recruitment boss Dean Bell came sniffing around this year, he had to do some brushing up.

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"[They were] just the same as any other club - I just wasn't sure," he said. "I didn't know the clubs or much about them.

"The teams I was speaking to, I got to know a little more. That's when I made the decision the Warriors would be the place for me."

For months, rumour swirled about Tomkins' final NRL destination. The Titans made a big play for the fullback, while Sydney glamour club the Rabbitohs were also sniffing.

South Sydney co-owner Russell Crowe even hit up the English international at the premiere of Man of Steel in London, warning him "not to sign for a non-Australian NRL team".

Journalists scrambled, but Tomkins said his mind was already set on Mt Smart Stadium.

"He made it pretty clear what he thought, but that was late on in negotiations with the Warriors," he said. "I didn't want to go there anyway."

Other than the league aspect, making the switch to Auckland - he sets up home here in January - was massive for Tomkins.

Throughout his life, he has never lived more than a mile away from his parents, brothers or close friends. Auckland is about as far removed from the north of England as you can get, but he's confident he can hack it.

"I couldn't get any further way now - you'd think I've done something wrong," Tomkins, who cites Jay-Z, Kanye West and Arctic Monkeys as his favourite musicians, said.

"It's going to be so different, but I'm ready for it. With modern technology, you're only a click away from seeing people anyway. I really don't see it as a problem."

Old Wigan team-mates Thomas Leuluai, the Warriors' standoff, and George Carmont, who lives in Auckland, will help make the transition, as will Tomkins' best mate, a Wigan electrician who is coming with him.

"When I told him I was moving here, he was like ‘you lucky bastard'," Tomkins said, laughing.

"I said ‘come if you want, then. Pack your job in, and come over with me and have a crack.' If it doesn't go well, I'll just buy him a ticket to fly him home."

Whatever happens, Tomkins won't be returning with his sparky mate.

He's a Warrior now, and his body has a certain part of real estate reserved for inking that name if the club can win its first NRL title by 2016.

- Sunday News

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