A shocked Sam Tomkins says he will take his leadership experience at Wigan into his role as England captain, starting with Friday’s match against the Combined Nations All Stars.
The 32-year-old Catalans Dragons full-back will lead out his side at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium on his 30th England appearance, almost nine years since he announced himself on the international scene with a hat-trick of tries on debut against Wales in Bridgend.
Tomkins takes on the England role from his old Wigan team-mate Sean O’Loughlin, who led the national team against New Zealand in 2018 and retired at the end of the 2020 season.
“It definitely wasn’t expected,” said Tomkins after receiving the phone call from coach Shaun Wane. “It’s not something you think about. I was taken back a bit, I didn’t know what to say to him.
“It’s a massive honour. Being named captain of England is right up there with anything I’ve achieved in the game.
“I’ve been really lucky to represent England a number of times over the years but becoming captain is something else.”
Wane, who coached Tomkins for most of his eight seasons at Wigan, said: “I’ve known Sam a long time and he’s the perfect captain.”
Tomkins, who will be in pole position to lead his country in the end-of-season World Cup, traces his captaincy qualities to being involved in the leadership group at Wigan under Michael Maguire.
“I was only 20 at the time and didn’t really understand why I was there but Michael Maguire explained that I was a leader naturally and he thought I would grow into that role over time,” Tomkins said.
“I think being involved in those groups and my time generally at Wigan taught me how to be a leader.
“Sean O’Loughlin is the best, along with Thomas Leuluai, and I learnt a lot at international level where I’ve been really lucky to play alongside senior players like Adrian Morley, James Graham, Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield, who are all accomplished leaders.”
Tomkins demonstrated his commitment to the England cause by driving over 1,000 miles on his own from his home in the south of France to link up with the squad last weekend.
Tomkins and his Catalans team-mate Tom Davies, who is set to make his England debut, were deterred from catching a flight because it would have meant having to quarantine on their return.
“I got clearance on Friday lunchtime so I took to my car and set off, it was as easy as that,” Tomkins said. “I don’t mind a drive, I’ve got three kids under five at home so 15 hours of silence was well received.
“I stopped about four o’clock in the morning and pulled into the services at Northampton for a couple of hours.
“The worst part was waiting for the train at Calais. It’s not that bad a drive, I’ve done it before.
“And for the opportunity to pull on an England jersey, it was a no-brainer really.
“Playing for England is something I’ve wanted to do since I was seven years old so a 15-hour drive is nothing against being able to pull on an England shirt.”
Friday’s game goes ahead amid controversy with Super League clubs playing a round of fixtures but Tomkins has no doubt about his priority.
“It’s massively important,” he said. “To be successful, we need the best preparation available to us and that’s what this match is.
“I understand clubs and fans are frustrated that there are Super League games on this week but one round of fixtures slightly being compromised for the best possible preparation for a World Cup I think is worth it.”