Eight years ago today, Warriors fans caught their first glimpse of their next superstar.
Wearing the No. 29 jersey, Sam Tomkins started at scrum-half and tore Whitehaven to pieces as Wigan eased into the Challenge Cup sixth round.
Just 3,814 fans were there for that historical night. Wigan scored 100 points for only the second time in their history in the 106-8 rout and Tomkins, who would score five tries, announced himself to the those watching.
What followed, once he’d nailed down a regular first team spot in the second half of the following season, was a story in which he was regularly the hero, scoring 144 tries in 153 appearances before leaving for the NRL at the end of 2013.
And set to make his second Wigan debut eight years and a day after his first, things look very different for Tomkins this time.
Fans will arrive expectant – they have seen enough to know what Tomkins is capable of when he is at his best. And instead of a teenager taking the first steps to realising his dream, he is a man with the No. 1 shirt on his back – and fans have been waiting for months to see him wear it.
He also has to contend with the fact tomorrow’s clash with Hull FC will be his first since last August, and his first since recovering from major knee surgery which he had in November.
“I think the Wigan fans will want me to be coming back to where I left off in 2013,” Tomkins said. “I know it’ll take a few weeks to get back into the groove but I’ll try and be valuable.
“It’ll be hard to judge until I’m actually playing but I just want to be realistic about my expectations..”
One person who won’t weigh Tomkins down with expectation is coach Shaun Wane.
Wane and his medical staff have been as patient with Tomkins’ recovery as they have meticulous – hence the four-month wait before letting their marquee signing cross the whitewash since the season kicked off.
“Shaun has reassured me he’s not going to be hammering me so I just need to get out there and do my job,” explained Tomkins. “I’m realistic, I know I’ve had a significant injury and getting back to playing is not about your best form immediately coming out. But I’ll certainly add something to the team on Friday, I’m not going to be a weak link, that’s for sure.
“I’ve got my own standards and I know what I need to do for the team. My job this week is going to be simple – I don’t know how long I’ll play but when I do, I need to make sure I give the team something we’ve not had this year.
“People are going to watch knowing it’s my first game but once I’m back out there it’s back to normal. I’m just one of the 17 and part of a team.”
Despite being on the sidelines, Tomkins’ impact has been felt already.
His competitiveness is well-documented and Wane has already mentioned how his contributions in training have lifted team-mates.
Tomkins has also been helping behind the scenes and can’t wait to link-up with his new team-mates.
He said: “I’ve been helping Lewis Tierney out with fullback so that gave me a focus but the last month has flown by if I’m being honest. I’m glad I’m not stuck on the bike anymore.
“I’m lucky to be at a club like Wigan and I’m lucky a club like Wigan wanted me straight back.
“Tony Clubb is outstanding and I can’t wait to play with him. I’ve played with him for England but I just think he’s superb. I remember when Wigan said they were signing him from Harlequins and I thought he’d be a good player, but he’s getting better and better. The stuff he does off the ball and stuff that doesn’t get his name in the papers for are incredible, and he’s a brilliant asset for us. There’s John Bateman and Taulima Tautai too, there are loads I can’t wait to play with.”
The landscape in Super League has also changed radically since Tomkins walked off the Old Trafford pitch in October 2013.
A new structure is in place, and the table this year has two notable heavyweights at the bottom in Huddersfield and champions Leeds Rhinos.
And with Magic Weekend on the horizon, the Challenge Cup underway and the race to the Super 8s reaching the half-way stage, Tomkins has a lot to look forward to as he finds his feet.
“Nobody would have thought Leeds would be bottom of the league at this stage of the year but I don’t think they’ll stay there for long – I think they’ll make the top eight,” he said.
“It’s good that it’s so unpredictable, that’s what we want. All the teams who have had potential for so long seem to be realising it and making the competition a lot more even.
“The luxury of having an operation in the off-season means you don’t miss too many big events. I’m looking forward to Magic and playing against Leeds. I watched it last year as a fan and it’s a great concept. I’ve been in Newcastle to do some promoting for it and I can’t wait to get up there – it’ll be a great stadium I can tick off.”
But for now, tomorrow’s visit of Hull will be the only thing on Tomkins’ mind. Unlike Hull FC clashes of years gone by, this time the Airlie Birds arrive at the DW Stadium for a top four battle, and the winners will be able to apply pressure on Warrington at the top of the table.
And not that anyone will be expecting Tomkins to repeat the five-try frenzy of eight years ago, but Hull FC were the last opponents Tomkins scored a try for in Wigan colours, at Wembley in 2013.
“I left Wigan after the 2013 Grand Final and I’ve never really reflected on that time, but I have done recently.” Tomkins said.
“With the injury being such a lengthy one, waiting for a couple of weeks doesn’t matter. I wanted to make sure it was definitely right to play with and it is now.”