Sam Tomkins’ journey to Old Trafford is the most remarkable sub-plot surrounding Catalans Dragons’ bid to become Super League champions for the first time.
The legendary full-back’s battle with a long-standing knee injury left him contemplating quitting the sport he loves earlier this year.
The pain of getting through games was becoming too much.
At 34 and with a glorious career already behind him, Tomkins could have easily quit. He did not.
“Sam told me the story himself,” Sky Sports presenter Brian Carney told Love Rugby League.
“He was talking about retiring and told Catalans, ‘listen, I know I’m on big money, you’re going to have to get me off the salary cap and bring another player in because I’m not sure what I can get out of this knee’.
“The Dragons said, ‘Sam, let us go away and think about it’ before coming back to him and saying, ‘Sam, we want eight games out of you’.
“They brought him into a room and had it all mapped out about when Sam would play and when he would rest to get to the eight games and then maybe a semi-final they hoped and a Grand Final.
“Sam said, ‘if that’s your plan for me, those rest days and recovery after playing those games, then I think I could probably do that’.
“Well, I think he will play his 21st game of the season on Saturday. It’s a remarkable story.”
The Theatre of Dreams awaits Wigan Warriors and Catalans Dragons
The Super League Grand Final is fast approaching and Carney can barely conceal his excitement.
After a gruelling 27-round regular season and play-off series, the title will be decided at Old Trafford when Wigan Warriors and Catalans clash.
It has all the makings of a classic, and anchor presenter Carney will – as usual – front Sky’s live coverage from the Theatre of Dreams.
“It’s our utter privilege to cover the Grand Final and we feel it – we never take it for granted,” 47-year-old Carney, now in his 25th year working in the 13-a-side code as a player or presenter, tells Love Rugby League.
“We feel that culmination of all those rounds that we have covered and all the stories we have told and threaded throughout the season. We weave all that together and end up at Old Trafford.
“The teams have delivered and now the Super League title is on the line. May the best team win.”
A Wigan side packed with talents such as Jai Field, Bevan French, Abbas Miski and Liam Marshall, versus a Catalans outfit boasting the likes of Tomkins, Mitchell Pearce and Tom Johnstone, is a fixture to increase the heartbeat.
That legendary ex-Wigan star Tomkins and NRL title winner Pearce are retiring after the game merely adds to the intrigue.
Michael McIlorum and Tom Davies, popular former Wigan men, will line up against their erstwhile employers as the Dragons bid to become Super League champions for the first time.
When Russell Crowe was interviewed by Sam Tomkins: ‘I’m going to try and get you to Souths’
Ex-Wigan winger Carney had plenty to say on Tomkins, adding: “Sam Tomkins, wow, who hasn’t been entertained by him?
“In many ways, while the profile of rugby league needs working on – that’s probably a polite way of saying it – Sam has maybe more than most in the Super League era made an impact beyond the sport.
“Yes, he’s not on the billboards in London like we’d want him to be, but there aren’t many players who could go on the red carpet and interview Russell Crowe before the premiere of the new Superman film, Man of Steel.
“Sam did that in London in 2013 before he signed for the New Zealand Warriors and I was there to see it.
“This was a decade ago, and he wasn’t that wily veteran he is now, but he had that confidence, energy and enthusiasm to go and do that.
“When we pushed our cameras in front of Russell Crowe, he said, ‘ah, Sam Tomkins, you’re a helluva player, mate. I’m going to try and get you to Souths’.
“Sam laughed it off and they did a great interview. There was a tremendous rapport because Russell Crowe realised what a great player he was talking to. There aren’t many rugby league players from these shores who can turn the head of Russell Crowe.”
More media duties in life after league?
Tomkins has become a respected and popular media pundit in the past few years alongside his playing commitments.
“Sam hasn’t sat back and expected people to knock on his door,” Carney explains.
“He gets it, and Sky ask him to be a studio guest and he says, ‘yes, absolutely’. He has done for years. Sam has been doing these kind of features for 10 years. We have to drag players to interviews but Sam’s like, ‘not a problem, I’ll do it. I’m going to raise my profile’. He’s a clever man.”
He is also one of the greatest players of his generation, as evidenced by his dramatic winning try in last week’s play-off semi-final against St Helens.
Carney reasons: “Last week’s game wasn’t great, let’s be honest, it was pretty turgid. With what was at stake, it kept you gripped but Sam broke it open late on in what could have been his final-ever game.”
The former England captain is set for an off-field role at the Dragons when he retires.
“I think Sam’s found a part of the world that he’s keen to live in with his family for a few more years yet,” says Carney.
“He’s very well thought of at the club so I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t stay on, although I’m not sure in what capacity.”
Watch the Betfred Super League Grand Final exclusively live on Sky Sports Main Event and NOW from 5pm Saturday October 14th, and Betfred Super League Wheelchair Final on Sky Sports Arena and NOW from 5pm Sunday October 15th.