Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tomkins makes wrong move, again.

Two years ago, Super League’s best player decided to follow the trend of English Rugby League players and head to the sport’s most professional competition, the NRL. His decision featured the usual spin off lines, and was cited as a challenge and to experience something different. The fact that he signed a whopping $750,000 a year contract, and his Super League club Wigan received a $1.2 million dollar transfer fee, apparently had, little to do with it.

Tomkins will head back to England at the end of the 2015 NRL season.
Photo: Jason Gottenham (Getty Images Asia/Pacific)
At the time, there had been whispers of Sam Tomkins coming out to the NRL for well over a year, but he was the poster boy for the English competition, having just won the premiership for the second time in 2013, so it still came as a surprise when he announced he would be joined the New Zealand Warriors in 2014 for the next three seasons. At 24 years-of-age, Tomkins was about to enter a new domain. No longer would he be the best there is, no longer would be even be the best in the team, no longer would he be in his comfort zone.

Having dominated the Super League for what seemed like such a long time, despite being so young, many commentators thought Tomkins move was going to be a blinding success, and we finally would have met the ‘English Billy Slater’, or a set of appearances in which he was unable to handle the week in, week out rigorous of the more professionalised NRL. But it’s in fact been somewhere in between with Tomkins playing 25 games last season, scoring 13 tries. The moderate success could be considered a good season for a player in his first NRL season and one to build on, but after just over one year, Tomkins has decided to head back to England at the 2015 season’s end. The boy from Wigan is reportedly homesick and will shift competitions after playing out this season with the Auckland based side.

Tomkins original decision to sign with the Warriors is where he went wrong. Even Russel Crowe told him on a red carpet movie premiere not to sign with an NRL club outside of Australia. However the decision to now leave the Warriors comes as even more of a surprise and is his second mistake.
Tomkins and his officials’ believed that the warriors would be a good fit for his game, being a running fullback, darting through holes in broken play and relishing offload opportunities. In many respects, they were right, this is how the Warriors tend to play a lot of their football, but what they failed to look for in a club, was a coach who could nurture and guide him through the transition into the NRL. The warriors went through three different coaches from the time Tomkins signed until now. How that would help anyone smoothly blend into the tougher competition beggars belief. Tomkins should have sought out a club with a steady coaching staff, and someone that has ushered through some of the best fullback’s in the game. Des Hasler and Craig Bellamy come to mind. Sure he may not have got the money he was after, but if Tomkins actually came to the NRL to improve his football, he had to head to one of those clubs.

What we have now is one of the sport’s most tricky and sharp players, who was the best there was in the only other professional competition in the world, heading back after failing to improve his game, and failing to make a real impact. Initially, Tomkins looked like he could form an exciting and potent attacking partnership with Shaun Johnson, but after limited and modest combination strike, it looks like that won’t get a chance to fully develop. Johnson won the Golden Boot in 2014, crowned the best Rugby League player in the world; despite the Warriors failing to make the NRL Finals. He is reaching the peak of his playing power, having been the team’s halfback since the played in the 2011 Grand Final. With Johnson firing on all cylinders, and Tomkins having experienced a second pre-season in the Southern Hemisphere, many pundits were expecting the Warriors to come flying out the blocks this season, piecing together a game to take on the big clubs. However it has not yet proven to be, as after 6 rounds of football, Tomkins has played just two games and already has his ticket back to Heathrow booked.
The winner from the Tomkins move is current Roosters fullback, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who has signed with Warriors for 2016 and beyond. Effectively taking Tomkins marquee money of $750,000 a season along with his sport at fullback, the Warriors will prove a good fit for Tuivasa-Sheck. The Kiwi international will enjoy being back in his home country and should actually gel well with halfback, Shaun Johnson.
The loser however, is former Warriors fullback Kevin Locke, currently playing for English Super League club Salford. Locke seems almost lost and bewildered in the Super League, having strayed from his previous form and late last year he even tried to switch to Scottish Rugby Union. At the time of Tomkins signing to the Warriors, Locke was the incumbent and established custodian for both the New Zealand national side, and the Warriors. He had actually just won the battle of the fullbacks in the 2013 World Cup Final where New Zealand beat England at the death, displaying a far more impressive performance than Tomkins did for England.

The disappointing factor of it all is one that is all too common in the sporting world, the notion of what could have been. Tomkins came as THE best, and if he had of gone elsewhere, or the Warriors had of put a coach in place, or if he now had of stayed to give things time to work, we might have seen something special. NRL fans have seen glimpses of the real Sam Tomkins but it’s unlikely we’ll get to see him fully flourish. With only 20 rounds to go, Tomkins is running out of time to prove himself at the truly elite level of the NRL.
From a Rugby League point of view, it’s good that Tomkins is staying in the game and not taking up the huge offers Rugby Union clubs from around the world are throwing up to every Tom, Dick and Harry. The Super League is turning itself around from a retirement home from NRL players and will massively benefit from his return. Salford owner and billionaire, Marwan Koukash, will surely have his check book written and ready for Tomkins to sign when he gets off the plane, but it’s more likely he will return to the club that made him famous, the Wigan Warriors. Wigan, who two years ago filled their pockets, will have to reimburse the New Zealand Warriors some of the world-record transfer fee of £700,000 they received.