ALTHOUGH he has not even played Test football for four years, New Zealand coach Michael Maguire has told his players to remain wary of England’s Sam Tomkins – who he calls “a rubber man”.
He is a surprise pick at scrum-half in Wayne Bennett’s England side for today’s first Test with St Helens’ Mark Percival a shock omission and young centre Oliver Gildart debuting.
Bennett has opted for an all-Wigan half-back pairing of Tomkins – who makes his first international appearance since 2014 – and George Williams.
St Helens’ Jonny Lomax – who earned Super League Dream Team recognition at stand-off this season – has got the nod over Tomkins at full-back where, ironically, the Wigan player has operated for most of this year.
Indeed, Tomkins has won the majority of his 23 caps at No 1 and not played half-back for England since facing the Kiwis in their opening game of the 2010 Four Nations in Wellington.
Maguire, who coached Wigan to Grand Final and Challenge Cup glory in his two years in Super League from 2010-11, says he was not surprised by the recall.
“Not at all, he helped me a few times when I was here,” he said.
“He’s won a couple of Grand Finals and a couple of Challenge Cups. He’s a quality player and, once he’s got the ball in his hand, you’ve got to be alert.
“He’s like a rubber man – he bounces all over the place and he loves to show the ball.
“We’ve going to have to make sure we’re very strong defensively.”
It was Maguire who switched Tomkins from the halves to full-back, where he went on to gain the bulk of his 23 Test caps, but he says the one-time Man of Steel can be just as effective in the scrum-half role.
“From myself at that moment in time, I felt it was the right position for him,” said the Kiwis coach.
“I think he’s played quite a bit of half since. We’re aware of what he’s capable of.”
Catalans-bound Tomkins, 29, features under Bennett for the first time and said: “I’ve been watching as a fan these last few years but there is nothing like pulling a jersey on.
“It’s huge. I’ve been lucky enough to do it twenty-odd times before and that just makes you want to do it again.”
Elsewhere, England Knights were in action early this morning when they faced Papua New Guinea in Lae while Ireland, Scotland and Wales seek to join hosts England in the 2021 World Cup when the 2018 European Championship gets underway.
Wales will be aiming to retain their title but of more significance is the chance to qualify for the next World Cup.
They head to France today whose coach Aurelien Cologni showed his priorities by holding back Wigan’s Grand-Final winning duo Romain Navarrete and Morgan Escare from last week’s game against England.
Ireland, with Stuart Littler in charge, host a Scotland side that also has new coaches – Wakefield’s Chris Chester and Featherstone Rovers’ John Duffy.