Talking RL: It’s good to have you back, Sam

Sam Tomkins celebrates with Shaun Wane after his last game for Wigan
Sam Tomkins celebrates with Shaun Wane after his last game for Wigan

Eight years ago today, Sam Tomkins announced himself to the rugby league world with a five-try debut for Wigan.

“Don’t put him in the Universe team yet,” urged then-coach Brian Noble, who handed the wiry teenager his chance because Thomas Leuluai was away playing for New Zealand.

Denny Solomonas try

Denny Solomonas try

But in the years that followed, he went on to become a firm crowd-pleaser and a poster-boy for both the club, and the Super League.

Fans loved his gazelle-like running, his bursts of explosiveness, his skills, his swerves, his swagger... and that Scrappy Doo attitude when it all kicks off!

And now, two years and seven months since his last Wigan appearance – in the 2013 Grand Final – he will be back at the DW Stadium.

Back in the Cherry and White. Back being the focus of everyone’s attention.

Of course, we know it will take him time to find his groove; any player who has been out so long deserves as much.

And timing is a big part of his game – remember the way he would chime into the attack – and Tomkins needs to get used to playing alongside the likes of George Williams, John Bateman and Dan Sarginson.

By his own admission, he was “way off” in his final season for New Zealand Warriors, owing to an injury to his knee which has since been operated on.

And that has only served to heighten the interest in his return.

Whether he’s firing straight away or whether it takes him a few weeks, it’s great to see him back in the No.1.

Lee Radford has been widely praised for allowing star forwards Frank Pritchard and Sika Manu to play for Samoa and Tonga respectively last weekend.

Hull FC powered to victory against St Helens without them – they are in fine form at the moment – but it could easily have backfired.

I, too, admire Radford’s stance.

But isn’t that, right there, the problem with international rugby league?

Surely we shouldn’t be relying on the good-will of club coaches – surely there should be concrete rules in place to govern the release of players for Test matches.

I made my first ever visit to Dewsbury Rams last Sunday for Wigan’s Challenge Cup tie.

I was impressed. They take pride in their smart, compact ground, the staff are friendly, the fans were welcoming – good luck to them for the rest of the Championship campaign.

After Cas’ gutsy win against Salford, I noticed this Tweet from Tigers prop Nathan Massey:

“What a win that was, massive credit to all boys today! Knee dislocated, luckily doctor slipped it straight back in so fingers crossed no damage.”

Believe me when I tell you that, if I dislocated my knee, the last thing I’d be feeling was ‘lucky’, whether the doctor slipped it back in or not!

This current Super League structure has its critics, but I think the jostling for league positions has made the season interesting, even when some of the quality on show has been questionable.

Tonight, Leeds take on Castleford knowing a defeat would open up a seven-point gap between themselves – in bottom spot – and the eighth-placed Tigers.

The stakes are huge for Leeds.

Now imagine if this game was being played under the old structure. It would be all-but meaningless.

Hull KR have retired the No.6 shirt in tribute to Roger Millward.

It’s an amazing and bold gesture by the club, who have done a sterling job in saluting arguably their greatest ever player.

But I hope Wigan never go down the line of ‘retiring’ a number.

Imagine if Sam Tomkins couldn’t wear the No.1 because it had been retired to honour Jim Sullivan?

In my view, players are only ever custodians of a shirt number, not the outright owner.

Castleford were good value for their win against Salford but what a shame the game – televised live on the BBC – was marred by one of the most ridiculous video refereeing calls I’ve ever seen.

Denny Solomona, no stranger to scoring spectacular tries, went over and was awarded the try, even though replays show the ball never touched the ground and was fumbled.

Some may say the video referee never got to see the definitive camera angle at the time – if not, why not? Who’s to blame for that?

And how stupid is this change to the video ref’ system, emulating the NRL, in which the referee either awards a ‘try’ or ‘no try’ before sending it upstairs.

The fact the ref’ is using the video official tells us he isn’t sure what happened! If he was, he wouldn’t need the video ref.

So why force the poor bloke to take a guess before sending it upstairs? It seems ridiculous.