HE may be the poster boy of British rugby league and now the world’s costliest player but Sam Tomkins is modest enough to concede he will only be the third best full-back – never mind player – on the field this afternoon.
It clearly illustrates the startling embarrassment of riches in the Australia side England face in their World Cup opener in Cardiff.
Everyone knows Billy Slater, the brilliant Melbourne Storm and Queensland No 1 who has long been revered as one of the most mesmeric players on the planet.
But, this season, Kangaroos and State of Origin team-mate Greg Inglis – widely renowned as the best centre in the sport – has made a hugely successful switch to full-back for South Sydney too.
England will not know whether to laugh or cry knowing ‘GI’ can only get in this Australia side back in his original three-quarter slot.
Regardless, when asked about his own inevitable comparisons with Slater – each has that willowy frame, electric acceleration and elusive running capacity – Tomkins is slightly embarrassed.
The Wigan Warriors star, who moves on to New Zealand Warriors in that record-breaking deal at the culmination of this World Cup, admitted: “It’s not great, because he’s pretty good, isn’t he?
“He’s been the best full-back around for a while. Probably Greg Inglis is now competing with him for best full-back.
“But comparisons are going to get made. I’d say he’s a much better player than I am at the moment, and probably so is Greg Inglis. But I’m working on my game and hopefully I’ll be able to improve.”
Tomkins, who will look to extend his record as England’s greatest try-scorer today, knows what he has to do to achieve that aim.
“Probably prove myself in the NRL,” said the 24-year-old.
“The best players in the world are always the ones who have been considered to have played in the NRL.
“You look at Adrian Morley, he went over to the (Sydney) Roosters, did brilliantly there for a number of years, came back and has been a star of Super League.
“I think all the best players in the world at the moment are in the NRL.
“There’s no doubt about that. One day I’d like to be up there, but I’m a bit off just yet.”
However, Tomkins can take a significant step towards proving his own pedigree by taking today’s game by the scruff of the neck.
Undoubtedly, England need someone to do just that and his stock will rise immeasurably if his vast array of skills can help Steve McNamara’s side to an unlikely victory.
In Tomkins’ handful of appearances against the Kangaroos so far, since making his international debut in the 2009 Four Nations, he has shown glimpses of his threat but never stamped his authority on a game.
The same description could be given to the side as a whole.
Tomkins, who dreams of rounding off a dream year with a World Cup allied to Wigan’s Super League and Challenge Cup double, said: “We’re under no illusions: we know exactly how tough it’s going to be.
“Australia are not short of superstars are they? They’ve got a few decent players.
“In Four Nations finals before (2009 and 2011) we’ve probably stuck with them for about 60 minutes and then they’ve blown us away for 20, which is disappointing.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“We need to beat some good teams to get to that final as well.
“New Zealand have got one of their strongest squads, certainly in recent years, and that’s another team we’re going to have to beat if we’re going to do something good.”
The big question is just why England do slip up in the crucial final quarter – is it purely mental or physical?
“I’m not too sure, to be honest,” added Tomkins, whose younger brother Joel hopes to make his England RU debut against Australia in a week’s time.
“I think they’ve played in some bigger games than us and probably a few of them have got more big-game experience than players before. But that’s not the case any more and we don’t want that to happen again.
“We know that they’re the best in the world, and we’ve got the first crack at them in the first week. We need to stand up and make a statement of how good we’re going to be.”
Tomkins’ hopes of doing that are improved given he is feeling better than ever at the end of the season, in part due to unusually missing a few club games with niggling injuries.
Furthermore, he has often spoken about being an England player first and Wigan – or now New Zealand Warriors – secondly.
Fiercely patriotic, if he was to inspire the national side to a first World Cup success since 1972, would he arrive in Auckland decked proudly in that shirt?
“No, I’d probably just get off the plane with a medal around my neck!” he laughed.
“I don’t really take any memorabilia from games.
“My mum keeps all my shirts, medals, rings, anything like that. All I collect is boots. I collect other players’ boots. Why? Well, everyone collects shirts don’t they?
“I’ve got a games room at home, with Adrian Morley’s 50th cap boots, Tom Leuluai’s last Wigan boots, George Carmont’s…”
He insists he will not be going after Slater’s though. Respect is one thing, but there is business to be done today.