Super League fears of top player exodus

Shaun Wane’s recent admission that Sam Tomkins will eventually leave Wigan was typically blunt in its honesty. 

It will also reignite fears in the British game that, when push comes to shove, Super League might find it increasingly difficult to hang on to its top talent.

Tomkins is a unique case; a once-in-a-generation freak who will undoubtedly attract offers from rugby union as well as the NRL.

But plenty of other England internationals could be subject to bids from Aussie clubs over the coming years – and with the NRL’s growing salary cap, there are worries Super League might suffer a major talent drain.

It’s a double-edged sword.

We should be concerned that British rugby league struggles for cash, and finding new income sources for the sport needs to be Red Hall’s top priority (although there has been at least some good news on this front recently).

But should we be overly bothered if half the England team decides to test their luck on Australia’s east coast?

We’re already seeing fewer imports heading to these shores, which in turn means more opportunity for British youngsters – and generally clubs are quick to unearth the next stars of the game.

So if the Sydney sun tempts players like Tomkins, Kallum Watkins or Tom Briscoe, it won’t be disastrous.

That NRL exposure will only strengthen the national team, and while fans might have to get used to losing the big names, that’s the reality of market forces.

In the meantime, plenty more talent will come off the conveyor belt to replace those that leave.

It’s less than two years since Zak Hardaker made his top-flight debut. How many more like him are waiting for their chance?

Losing players to the NRL might highlight Super League’s comparative weakness as a commercial operation, but from a rugby point of view, it’s not that big a deal. Losing them to rugby union is much more worrying.

None of us are privy to the choices Sam Tomkins has in front of him. But if he is aiming to be the best (rather than the highest profile) rugby player in the world, he needs to leave the 15-a-side code, and all its skill-stifling tendencies, well alone.

It’s at this time of the year that members of the media get their entries ready for an annual tipping competition.

The task? Pick the finishing order of all 14 Super League teams at the end of the regular season.

Collectively, we’re not very good. Five or six right answers will normally get you the money.

For the record, (and working on the basis that Marwan Koukash will complete his takeover of Salford – otherwise they’re definitely bottom) here’s mine:

1. Warrington
2. St Helens
3. Leeds
4. Wigan
5. Hull
6. Huddersfield
7. Catalan
8. Bradford
9. Hull KR
10. London
11. Wakefield
12. Salford
13. Widnes
14. Castleford

Those tips won’t make me popular in Castleford, but there is at least some reasoning behind them.

Looking at the Tigers’ fixtures, they’ve got Warrington, Leeds, Bradford, Catalan, Wigan, Hull and London in the first seven weeks.

Could they reach round eight without a win?

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