Wigan Warriors winger Liam Marshall is relishing the opportunity to line up against ‘absolute superstar’ Sam Tomkins in Saturday’s Grand Final, the player he looked up to during his teenage years.
Marshall himself made his 150th Wigan appearance as he crossed for a hat-trick of tries in their 42-12 semi-final win against Hull KR, debuting back in 2017 for his hometown club.
That year, and the next, he lined up in the same 13 as another academy product in Tomkins. A little over seven years separates the pair in terms of age, and by the time Marshall made his breakthrough, Milton-Keynes born Tomkins had already won two Grand Finals and a brace of Challenge Cups.
The veteran had also already tried his hand in the NRL with New Zealand Warriors and firmly established himself in the England set-up, a huge figure in the game.
Tomkins will bow out of the game following Saturday’s Old Trafford showdown, and after his semi-final heroics to get Catalans there, plaudits rightly haven’t evaded the 34-year-old.
Dragons boss Steve McNamara revealed his star man could easily have retired earlier this season, but has played through the pain barrier for the sake of the team. That level of dedication to the cause has been highlighted by Marshall, who has nothing but good things to say about a Warriors icon.
Wigan Warriors winger Liam Marshall heaps praise on ‘superstar’ Sam Tomkins
Speaking to the media ahead of that game against the Robins over the weekend, the Cherry and Whites flier said: “I was lucky enough to play a short period with Sam in my first couple of years at Wigan.
“Leading up to that, I’d met him a few times just when I was a kid, and I looked up to him really. He was an absolute superstar when I was in high school.
“I remember going to the games watching him with my mates and just being amazed by what he was doing on a rugby league field. It was unheard of and unknown at that time.
“I was lucky enough to have a week with the England lads last year before the World Cup, and just seeing the way he conducted himself every day in training – even in meetings – was outstanding. To gain that bit of knowledge from him was incredible.
“A top, top player of the highest ilk.
“I think he’ll be well remembered by fans of Wigan and Catalans, and as much as he gets a lot of stick from the fans of other Super League teams, I think they’ll appreciate what an outstanding talent he was when all is said and done at the end of the season.”
‘One of the best players we’ve had in Super League’ – Marshall on former team-mate Tomkins
Ex-England skipper Tomkins departed the Warriors for the south of France on a high having won the 2018 Grand Final against Warrington Wolves, a triumph Marshall missed out on through injury.
In Perpignan, where he intends to stay with his family for the foreseeable, the stalwart has been at the forefront of a club on the up.
Winning the League Leaders’ Shield in 2021, McNamara’s reached Old Trafford for the first time and were only pipped to the post by a St Helens side who went on to win four-in-a-row, beaten 12-10 in a thriller.
As Les Dracs gear up for a return to the Theatre of Dreams, former team-mate Marshall has praised the impact Tomkins has had at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, with Saturday set to be his 104th and final Dragons appearance.
The Wigan man continued: “The way he’s adopted his role and his position in the team in the last couple of years has been outstanding at Catalans.
“To go over there and make the impact he has, bringing them so close the season before last to winning a Grand Final and how well they’ve played this year, I think he’s a massive contributor to that.
“He’s really embedded himself into that French culture, bought into it, and he’s an absolutely outstanding talent.
“For me, he’s probably up there as one of the best players we’ve produced in England, and also one of the best we’ve had in Super League.”