I Don’t Want To Retire: Tomkins, Catalans & The Dream Goodbye

England’s World Cup captain will retire at the end of the season
10:00, 06 Jul 2023

Sam Tomkins is not ready to stop playing rugby, but when he does so he hopes to leave French rugby league thriving in the Betfred Super League.

England’s World Cup captain will retire at the end of the season, despite admitting he is nowhere near ready to do so. His final fling is going well, with the Catalans Dragons four points clear at the top as they target a historic first Grand Final triumph.

The 34-year-old has been forced to admit defeat to a long-standing knee injury, and is coaxing his battered body through one final season, one he hopes will deliver a fitting finale.


“That would be the dream ending,” he tells The Sportsman in an exclusive interview this week.

“Ask any Super League player what they want to be doing in October and it is playing at Old Trafford. But we need to keep improving if we are going to go on and win it because I don’t think the way we are playing at the moment is going to be good enough.”

Many would disagree however, as another powerful win at Hull FC on Saturday sent Steve McNamara’s side four clear as they chase that elusive first title. 

McNamara said before that game that he feels his side are still “miles off” where he wants them to be, despite the stylish French club consolidating their status as the best team around this year. 

And Tomkins agrees that Super League has not even seen anywhere near the full force of the Dragons yet.

“Teams do fear playing us now and we have earned that, but I don’t believe we are the best team in the comp by four points. If you look at the way we have played in recent weeks, we could have lost to Leigh and Hull so we are not buying into the fact that we are clear at the top. 

“It’s a brilliant position to be in and exactly where we want to be but we have built up big leads and given teams the opportunity to come back. Come the playoffs you won’t get a second opportunity in games if you let a lead go, we need to be more ruthless.”

Tomkins made the big decision earlier this year that this would be his final season, although he will remain in the south of France that has long since become the family home. There will be no retirement u-turn for the three-time Grand Final winner either, despite the frustration of a mind that wants to carry on, being overruled by a body that cannot.

“I know this is it,” he says. “I don’t want to retire, this is not my choice. I’m not mentally worn out and I definitely have not had enough of the rugby. I just have one injury that is going to stop me and I will be very sad when I pack it in.

“This season just feels like it is flying. To only have ten Super League games left plus playoffs, and I don’t play every game so I have probably only got ten games left in my career which is strange. It just seems like it is going far too fast.

“People are already asking me about saying goodbye under the lights at Old Trafford.”

After the heartbreak of leading England at an ultimately unsuccessful World Cup on home soil last year, there is one decision Tomkins says he will never make though. He will always be available to play for his country, who will face Tonga in an end-of-season series.

“I’ve told Shaun Wane that if he still wants me to play for England then I will play. 

“I think that in the position that I play there are better players in Super League now so I don’t imagine he will need me, but if that changes then I will always be available and he knows that. 

“Shaun knows that he could call me and ask me to play prop against Tonga and I would put my hand up! I just love playing for England. Pulling on an England jersey is the best feeling in the world so I would never retire from that.”

With Tomkins heading into retirement in the south of France, he may well have proved a key figure in the 2025 World Cup, which was due to be staged on French soil before the tournament’s financial collapse.

“That was a real kick in the guts,” he admits. “There was some momentum behind it and a lot of excitement so that was hugely disappointing.

“I hope it doesn’t affect the upward trajectory of rugby league in this country, and Toulouse being back in Super League would certainly bolster that, I would love them to be back in.”

Indeed with the future of rugby league now being shaped as much off-the-field as on it, by sports management company IMG, Tomkins hopes the strength of the game in France is not overlooked, offering a stark observation on the strength of the British game.

“There are question marks over what we (French sides) bring to the competition but there are question marks over a lot of teams in Super League who bring very, very little, so the French sides certainly bring something.”

Right now though, Tomkins is ticking off the fixtures on a fast-diminishing career list that he simply does not want to end. 

He will be remembered as one of Super League’s greats, and there is one more chapter still to be written.

Catalans Dragons are 10/3 to win the Grand Final with Betfred*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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