St Helens boss Paul Wellens has heaped praise on talismanic figures James Roby and Sam Tomkins as the veteran pair prepare to do battle for one last time in tonight’s Super League play-off semi-final.
With both set to bow out of the game come the end of the season, only one of the two icons will extend their playing career for a further week and reach the Grand Final. For the other, tonight’s semi-final – as Saints travel to Catalans Dragons – will bring the curtain down on an unarguably illustrious career.
To date, 37-year-old Roby and 34-year-old Tomkins have totalled 865 domestic appearances. With nine Grand Final triumphs and six Challenge Cup lifts between them, the duo have also been named the Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel three times combined.
Neither have been short of tributes from those around them over the years, even if they’ve personally been reluctant to highlight the significance of their impending retirements.
But ahead of tonight’s clash, Saints head coach Wellens has re-iterated that he doesn’t believe we’ll ever see anyone like them in the game again.
‘The last of their era’: Praise aplenty for retiring stalwarts James Roby & Sam Tomkins
Speaking in his pre-match press conference before flying out to Perpignan, Wellens said: “They are maybe the last of their era.
“I don’t think anyone will be hitting the astronomical numbers that James Roby has hit in terms of appearances. Players get struck down more with concussions and suspensions, and we are looking to reduce the number of games we play each year.
“Sam is someone I was playing against back in 2008 or 2009 when he burst onto the scene with Wigan in a play-off game at Knowsley Road.
“I was like, ‘who is this kid?’, because I was taken aback by someone who came onto the field and really troubled us that night.
“You just knew at the moment you were playing against a special player and that’s proven to be correct. He’s been one of Super League’s best ever.”
Tomkins desperate for Old Trafford showdown with Wigan Warriors in Grand Final
Dragons ace Tomkins has found a new home in the South of France, spending the last five years at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, and already confirming he has no plans to move back to England anytime soon even in retirement.
The path he has trodden has been a different one than one-club man Roby. Twice departing Wigan, first for the NRL and then for Catalans, there was also a very brief stint in rugby union for the Milton Keynes-born ace.
With the Warriors the heavy favourites in the other semi-final tie against Hull KR this term, a full-circle ending to his career in facing Wigan in the Grand Final remains a possibility, and something Tomkins is actively hoping for.
In the build-up to tonight’s semi-final, he said: “The dream ending would be playing Wigan at Old Trafford and winning. I want nothing more than to bring silverware to the Dragons, so to be able to be a part of it in my last-ever game would be a dream come true.
“I’d go as far as to say it would mean more to me than any other trophy I’ve ever won. All year people have kept saying, this is ‘your last time doing something’ – the last time at Wigan, or the last time at St Helens.
“None of them have really mattered, but this one does. The last time playing at home will certainly be special, but I don’t want this to be my last game.”