13 October 2023

Sam Tomkins says Grand Final farewell will only be a fairytale if Catalans win

13 October 2023

Sam Tomkins feared his hopes of a fairytale finale to his glittering rugby league career had been dashed when he limped away from Catalans Dragons’ Betfred Super League win over Leigh in Perpignan in February.

The 34-year-old made a painful early morning phone call to Catalans head coach Steve McNamara to concede his decision to extend his career beyond last year’s World Cup in order help the French side towards a second Grand Final had been in vain.

Eight months later, having defied both his own initial fears and those of series of specialists who had delivered dark verdicts on his injured knee, Tomkins is preparing for the final game he always dreamed of, against the club he helped inspire to three previous Grand Final crowns.

It has become increasingly hard to deny that it has been written in the stars for Tomkins, especially since he rolled back the years with a nifty sprint through the defensive line of four-time defending champions St Helens to score the match-winning try in their play-off semi-final last week.

“It’s funny how things turn out,” smiled Tomkins. “My last game for Wigan was winning a Grand Final here in 2018 and now my last ever game on the pitch is against Wigan. I understand how lucky I am to be in this position.

“Everybody has their own personal story of what trophies mean to them. I’ve got a story for every one, but this different. This would be the first Super League title for the club, and the last time I’ll ever lace up my boots.

“The fairytale isn’t playing on Saturday – it’s winning on Saturday.”

Tomkins initially needed some convincing to bring an end to his glittering Wigan career and move to France in 2019, uprooting his young family to join McNamara, the former Bradford coach who harboured persuasive ambitions of turning Catalans into a permanent member of the sport’s elite.

Now his young family speak fluent French and he has no immediate desire to return to the UK, investing in property and a potential vineyard in Perpignan and accepting an offer from club owner Bernard Guasch to continue in a role as a club ambassador.

It is a measure of Tomkins’ gratitude for his improbable late-career surge, and his desire to take the club one step further than their previous Grand Final appearance two years ago, that he was swiftly disabused of the conviction that the match against Leigh could be his last.

My last game for Wigan was winning a Grand Final here in 2018 and now my last ever game on the pitch is against Wigan. I understand how lucky I am to be in this position

“We played against Leigh and I had a sleepless night after that game,” recalled Tomkins. “In the early hours of the morning, I called the coach and just said, ‘I can’t do it.’

“In terms of rugby, it was the toughest conversation I’ve ever had. Steve said to just come in the office and we’d chat through it. I was adamant at the time – I know my body and I just said I couldn’t do it.

“I told them they’d be better off bringing in someone else who can play every week. But the club said they didn’t want to do that. They said they’d rather have me here for the important games, and that for me was humbling.

“The performance and medical staff put together a great plan that meant I’ve played more rugby this year than I ever imagined.

“I will forever be in debt to them for the work they’ve done in my last season that means I’ll be able to finish on the biggest stage.”

Tomkins, however, is adamant the inevitable emotion of the occasion will count for nothing unless he is able to lift his current club to what would be an unprecedented first Grand Final win for the French side.

Catalans went toe to toe with Wigan during the regular season, leading the standings for a long period and eventually finishing second on goal difference, before raising their game to sink Saints in front of a near sell-out at the Stade Gilbert Brutus.

Over six planes full of Catalans fans will travel to Old Trafford and both French and Catalonian television channels will broadcast the game live, testament to the strides made by the club in the two years since they came up short against Saints at the same venue.

“We learned a lot a couple of years ago and we certainly learned that you can go to a Grand Final and play really well and can still not be enough,” said McNamara, who has made winning a personal mission since he moved to the club in 2017.

“The experience you gain is the same whether you win or lose and that puts us in a different place.

“We are up against a club who have been one of the juggernauts of rugby league for the last hundred-odd years, but that is how it should be in a Grand Final, and we know we have got to be outstanding.”

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