'˜There's nowhere better to win', says Wigan Warriors ace Tomkins
There have been bigger occasions and better stadia but, for Sam Tomkins, there's 'nowhere better to win' than at St Helens.
And as he counts down the days until the end of his Wigan career – seven games, at the most – this is his final chance of enjoying derby success at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
“This will be my special one knowing it’s my last one at St Helens – there’s nowhere better to win,” he said, labelling their rivalry as a ‘healthy hatred’.
“It’s exciting. I don’t know how many I’ve played.
“I was asked last week if I’d had more wins or losses and I don’t know, I can’t really remember the losses because the wins have been so big, they’re the ones that stick in your memory.
“The last one at Knowsley Road and the first at Langtree – they were huge games to be a part of.
“And more for the fans, because they have bragging rights forever. On Friday afternoon, in every pub, I’m sure there’ll be a Wigan fan saying, ‘We won the first here, the last there’.”
St Helens will win the league leaders’ shield if they win tonight.
And while Tomkins believes their eyes will be on the “real” prize at the end of the season – the Grand Final – he admires the way they have played this season.
“Saints have been the best team all year, and they’ve proved that week in week out,” he said.
“Games against them are always a great atmosphere and if we’re going to win a Grand Final I’m sure we’ll have to beat them – I’m sure they’ll be in the final.
“But hopefully we can get it back to 2-1 by winning this.”
Do Wigan need to win for their own self-confidence?
“If we got beat we wouldn’t be downhearted thinking we couldn’t beat them,” he said.
“When we lost at the DW, we came out thinking we’d undersold ourselves. We lost it and thought, ‘There were so many things we could have done better’.
“They’re not unbeatable – but they’re very good and you have to be nine or 10 out of 10 to beat them.”
Wigan, like St Helens, had last weekend off because of the Challenge Cup Final. And there was no need to ask whether Tomkins was a ‘Dragon for the day’.
He is, of course, leaving his hometown club to join Catalans at the end of the year – a move agreed earlier in the season when the Dragons were in the bottom-four, and showing the form which led many to fear for their Super League survival.
“When I signed, things weren’t looking as rosy as they are now. Everyone on Twitter was abusing me saying, ‘You’ll be playing at Batley next year’,” smiled the 29-year-old.
“But look at the squad, I’m not daft, I was confident they’d come through. Steve (McNamara) has proved his quality by turning them around.”
And leading their resurgence has been a player Tomkins knows only too well – Micky McIlorum, who was allowed to leave Wigan for free in the winter to move to Perpignan.
“Micky has been their best player all year. He’s phenomenal,” said Tomkins.
“He makes players around him better – he almost ‘guilts’ them into making little efforts which make such a difference. He’s proving his value at Catalans.
“It’s great for the game, seeing them win the Challenge Cup.”
Catalans, of course, reached Wembley after beating St Helens by 35-16 in the semi-final.
They harassed Justin Holbrook’s side, forcing them into making mistakes from the start and Tomkins admits they have learned lessons from that match.
“No-one has done that to St Helens all year, they hammered them off the park,” he said.
“We’ve seen clips of what Catalans did, they applied a lot of pressure, and it’s tough to do.
“Saints will have reviewed that game in depth and will have ideas on combating teams defending like Catalans did that day.
“We have our structures and we don’t change them really, but there were certain details Catalans did which we picked up.”