Rugby League Weekly: Wigan, France & The Big Dance

The Grand Final approaches...
10:00, 12 Oct 2023

One of the greatest players the British game has ever produced will end his career this weekend with a Grand Final against his beloved former club.

Sam Tomkins would have scripted this himself had he been able, and now the Catalans Dragons full-back gets the dream send off his career deserves, under the Old Trafford lights against Wigan.

And it is one that he has set up himself. 

A devastating, trademark sidestep off the ravaged knee that is ending his playing days, allowed the former England captain to skip through for a dramatic semi-final winning try to knock out the defending champions St Helens. 
Now he has one glorious final chapter to write. 

Tomkins is unquestionably a British rugby league great, but he has also been a divisive character through his trophy-laden career. Playing the pantomime villain -  mostly during his first stint at Wigan, gave rivals fans reason to hate him. But true tribal hatred only follows the very best, and Tomkins has always taken that as a badge of honour. The real Sam Tomkins is a very different person - big stage performer, quiet family man, humble and loyal friend. 

When half-back Ryan Brierley was asked to convert to play as a full-back for Leigh, he reached out to his idol for some help. Tomkins not only took the call, but spent hours helping his rival learn his new position.

“The measure of the person was that he was willing to help me in my transition to play full-back,” Brierley tells The Sportsman.

“The time he spent helping me, even though he was in France, over FaceTime for hours when I first reached out to get help with learning a new position, I just cannot underestimate how valuable it has been. 

“He didn’t need to help, I had never played with him, so to reach out and help a fellow professional when I needed it just speaks volumes of the man. 

“He’s been the best full-back to grace the Super League era, I’ve certainly never seen anyone as good as Sam in Super League. For what he has done for the game and for himself is pretty special and probably will never be replicated.


“I hope he gets the fairytale finish on Saturday because it will be just what he deserves.”

Sam’s swan song does however deny us a similar exit for James Roby, with the legendary hooker’s career ending with that St Helens defeat in France. 
The all-conquering Saints are in a transitional period under Paul Wellens and will rebuild in 2024 knowing their dynasty ended at four years with both Wigan and the Dragons now keen to build their own.

The Warriors are the immovable object in between Tomkins’ dream goodbye and a first ever French Grand Final win. On paper they have the match winners that Catalans do not, not least the newly crowned Steve Prescott Man of Steel Bevan French. Should Wigan triumph to land their first Grand Final win since 2018, then French would be a shrewd bet for the Harry Sunderland trophy for man of the match. 

This is a fantastic Grand Final match up, worthy of more than the moderate Old Trafford crowd likely to result from the Catalans presence in it. 
I have Wigan as big favourites, but I’m also a sporting romantic who loves to back the underdog. The Dragons will look to keep this tight knowing they are more than capable of doing to Wigan what they did to Saints last week. And there is no way that Tomkins is signing off quietly.

On a weekend of Grand Finals we have a surprise match up to win promotion to the Betfred Super League after runaway Championship leaders Featherstone suffered a devastating home semi-final defeat for the second successive season. 

London’s shock win sets up a final in Toulouse that is the rugby league expansionists dream, and leaves Fev counting the cost of their latest, and most damaging failure yet to make the big time, before IMG pulls up the drawbridge and rewrites the promotion rules.
The Fev players were absolutely shell-shocked, having won the regular season by 12 points, finishing 18 clear of the team who knocked them out. Players were saying “sorry” to fans and staff as they left the pitch. But sport isn’t fair, and with that comes the theatre. London were brilliant and what a wonderful, unexpected shot they have of the most unlikely return to the Super League picture. 

If London play like the did at Featherstone they can beat Toulouse. But I felt the Broncos produced a Grand Final performance last week that they will be unable to summon again in the south of France, allowing Toulouse an immediate return to restore a two-strong French presence in the game’s top tier.

Elsewhere this week Betfred secured a welcome extension to its lead sponsorship deal with the sport, York Valkyrie ended Leeds Rhinos’ hold on the Women’s Super League title, with the Rhinos’ Wheelchair side through to face Wigan in this weekend’s other Grand Final in Manchester.

And England suffered a needless setback ahead of their eagerly anticipated home international series with Tonga starting next weekend, after new captain George Williams was banned for an incident while playing for his club Warrington. 

The Wolves half-back was handed a one-match suspension for a shoulder charge in their playoff defeat to Saints, with bans in the domestic game also counting for internationals. His challenge to the severity of the punishment in a bid to be free to lead England was deemed “frivolous” and the ban was instead doubled. 

So the new skipper is now unavailable for the first two matches of a three-match series.
Only in rugby league.

betfred grand final odds*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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