Sam Tomkins was told he could leave Wigan as a youngster after being out of favour in Shaun Wane’s Academy side.
The 29-year-old came through the ranks at the Warriors and has gone on to play over 200 games for the club – but Tomkins’ future at Wigan was looking bleak when he was a teenager.
Tomkins first-crossed paths with now first-team coach Shaun Wane in the club’s Academy and Tomkins admitted that their relationship was frosty at first – but he now owes Wane a lot.
The England full-back said: “He wouldn’t pick me, I was still at school and everyone got offered contracts on three or four grand a year in the academy system at Wigan, but I wasn’t in that group.
“They said you can come in on a ‘pay as you play’ basis. If we won, you got £25 which is brilliant isn’t it when your car insurance is three grand a year? Shaun wouldn’t pick me.
“Week after week, I would ask him why I wasn’t playing and he would give me a list as long as my arm of reasons, none of which I could argue with. So, I would mither him every week and say ‘why are you not picking me?’ and he would blow my legs off again with another 25 different reasons.
“It was a difficult first twelve months – but I still say to this day it was very much a learning curve which set me in good stead.”
Tomkins admitted that he nearly left Wigan to join Widnes Vikings or Salford Red Devils when he continued to not get picked by Wane.
But Tomkins admitted that he always wanted to play for the Warriors and was determined to play regular first-team action for his hometown club.
He added: “I spat my dummy out when I got home and called Shaun all sorts.
“Shaun used to say my defence wasn’t good enough. I was about 60kg, so that’s probably why. He wouldn’t pick me and said ‘I don’t think your one-on-one contact is good enough’. He said ‘I’d love you to prove me wrong’ so he got Ben Kavanagh who was about twelve months older and about 30kg heavier. It was me stood on the try-line with Ben running at me trying to score. He ran at me ten times and scored eleven tries.
“It wasn’t easy, but what Shaun instilled in me was the belief that if I kept trying I might get there. Come the second year of the academy, he told me I could leave if I wanted. I went on trial at Widnes and Salford in the off-season. They offered me a bit of money. Wigan said I could come back but there was no money if I did – even the £25 had gone. I went back and played at Wigan St Pats for six games. Widnes offered me £3,000 and at the time I was thinking ‘I could get a car for a grand, insurance for a couple of grand’.
“But my dad didn’t let me and said he would find me a car and get out a loan for my car insurance. He said ‘did you really want to play for Widnes? Is that what you dreamed of doing?’ and I was like ‘no, probably not’. I played six games the following year, went into Dean Bell’s office, got a contract, and then twelve months later I was playing first-team.
“Both my mum and dad have had an impact. When you’re 16 or 17 and you’re trying to decide where to go, three grand is a lot of money. But my dad said ‘three grand won’t change your life’.
“At the time, I was an apprentice greenkeeper at a golf course in Ashton. I started at 5am, cutting the grass, and finished at 2pm. I borrowed a thousand pounds from my grandma to buy a scooter to get there and paid her back £100 a week. That enabled me to get back for training at four o’clock.
“An opportunity came where the injured lads at the club used to train at six o’clock in the morning. I went in and asked my golf course if I could start an hour later and I asked the rugby club if I could train with the injured players. I did that for a few weeks and then eventually they offered me a first-team contract.”
Win or lose against Warrington Wolves in the Super League Grand Final on Saturday, Tomkins and Wane will leave the Warriors and move to Catalans Dragons and Scottish Rugby respectively.