Eels' Hayne wary: Sam Tomkins is the real deal
Jarryd Hayne is no stranger to electrifying crowds with his brilliant running game. But even the "Hayne Plane" admits a fear of being upstaged by two equally free-wheeling attacking machines when the Warriors and the Parramatta Eels open their NRL campaigns in Sydney tonight.
The flashes of pace and guile shown by Sam Tomkins and Shaun Johnson in the Auckland Nines - followed by a dominant team pre-season trial trouncing of Brisbane - has the Hayne-led Eels expressing plenty of respect for their Kiwi visitors.
Tomkins has his doubters around his ability to replicate his English deeds in the much tougher NRL environment but Hayne, who will be the first man to mark the former Wigan star in the Australian competition, is not one of them.
"He's going to be great for the NRL, he's going to handle it," Hayne predicted. "He will find the week-in, week-out footy a bit tough but skill wise and ability wise, he's up there with the best. It's exciting, he's probably the first back from England to come over."
Tomkins' arrival at the Warriors has generated as much hype on the Australian side of the Tasman as here. He is the latest in a growing list of Englishmen testing themselves in the NRL. Adrian Morley, Gareth Ellis, James Graham and the Burgess brothers have all made their mark in recent years while Lee Mossop will make his debut for the Eels mid-season. However, few backs have tried their luck to date. With a phenomenal 144 tries from just 150 games for Wigan, the quick-footed 24-year-old is creating genuine interest among Aussie fans.
"He's a class player. One of the boys commented the other day ‘that Tomkins can play'," Hayne said. "From an England point of view, they are not known as much for their skill and their ability to create big plays, but he has that. England players are very tough and brutal, so for a bloke like him to make the trip and test himself, he couldn't have come to a more skilful club than the Warriors.
"For him to come and dip his toes in the big water over here, it's exciting and great for the game."
The Hayne-Tomkins fullback battle will be one of the highlight's of tonight's match but Hayne, who was arguably the player of the World Cup from the unaccustomed position of centre, is also wary of Tomkins' combination with the livewire Johnson.
"They are in great form, the Warriors did well at the Auckland Nines and smashed the Broncos as well," Hayne said. "Shaun Johnson looks to be full of confidence and playing good footy."
Another area that will draw close attention tonight will be the return of William Hopoate, who plays his first NRL game after a two-year absence as a Mormon missionary. While there are high hopes Hopoate will reclaim the form which saw him claim a NSW Blues State of Origin jersey and a premiership with Manly, his Eels teammates stressed it would take the strike centre time to find his best form.
"The thing he has impressed everyone with is his training ethic," halfback Luke Kelly said. "The way he works is unbelievable. We can't expect miracles from him, he's been away for two years, but as the year goes on you'll see some good footy out of him."
The Eels are desperate to kick-start their season with a win tonight, if only to ease early season pressure around the club's desperate need to avoid a third straight wooden spoon.