REFRESHED and rejuvenated, code-breaker Joel Tomkins feels better prepared to stamp his authority on the new Super League competition – admitting he felt “undercooked’ last year.
The forward returned to Wigan from Saracens last summer and after recovering from a back injury, went on to play in seven matches for his hometown club – including last October’s Grand Final defeat.
Days later, Tomkins was on a plane to Australia to represent England in the Four Nations.
Yet despite figuring on the Test stage, the 27-year-old admits fans never saw the best of him last year.
And he is confident he will return to his old self after a gruelling off-season.
He said: “Coming back halfway through a season is tough anyway. Coming back after a back injury and playing a different sport, well... that was very difficult.
I felt undercooked last season, to be honest.
“It was definitely a tough year.
“When I look back on my career when I’m done, I think it’ll be one of the toughest years of my career.
“I spent a lot of my time in union trying to lose the habits of a league player – and it’s been a case of trying to pick the habits back up.
“It’s a different type of fitness, too. More wrestle and contact.
“Now I’ve had an off-season, I feel fit and ready to go – definitely a lot better than I did last July.
“It’s nice to go into this season with a bit of confidence.”
Tomkins has played more than 150 games for Wigan since debuting in 2005. A strong-running forward, he is quick enough to play at centre, and has been asked by Shaun Wane to play a leading role for the club this season.
Chairman Ian Lenagan reckons he would be a natural successor for the captaincy when Sean O’Loughlin decides to hang up his boots.
For now, Tomkins’ focus is on helping the Warriors get their new campaign off to a flying start at Widnes on Thursday.
And with the game televised live, Tomkins admits the onus will be on the 2013 double winners to lay down a marker.
He said: “We want the two points because, under the new structure, they are going to be more valuable than in the past.
“But as much as it’s about getting the points, it’s also about laying down a marker and showing you’re the team to beat.
“So it’s a massive game for us – especially building into the Brisbane Broncos game.”
Wigan face the Australian giants two weeks later, sandwiching their first Super League home game of the season against Huddersfield.
Of the three, this Thursday’s match would appear the easier task but Tomkins points to Widnes’ good fortune against the Warriors on their home turf – or, more precisely, their artificial pitch – as evidence of what they are capable of.
“It’s a tough game going to Widnes, especially at their place,” said the forward.
“I’ve not played on their artificial pitch before, but Saracens have one of those pitches, so it’s nothing new to me and it definitely changes the way you play.
“It’s a different environment and it’s a definite advantage for Widnes because they train on it day in, day out and they know how the pitch runs. But we’ll not be using that as an excuse, we’ll go and play our own game and if we do that, hopefully we’ll get the result.”
Tomkins should get a chance to make a little piece of family history this year – he has never played a competitive game with brother Logan.
THIS STORY WAS TAKEN FROM THE WIGAN OBSERVER’S SUPER LEAGUE PREVIEW PULL-OUT