It’s funny, because one of the main arguments I’ve often heard about keeping often-touted Wigan prospect Sam Tomkins out of the Super League side was that he was undersized. That he would be brutalized and exposed in the defensive line. That he wouldn’t be able to cope with the physicality of 1st team football.
I call bullshit on that.
Tomkins played against Harlequins at the Stoop today, and looked threatening thoughout. He provided a spark of flair and attacking prowess down the middle that has been sorely lacking in the Warrior’s previous games. He was joined by fellow Academy product Shaun Ainscough in being the special factor that ultimately helped Wigan overcome a very-determined and challenging Harelquins side (well, that and Chad Randall having a brain spasm of some sort). At no point did either of them appear to be overmatched in anyway. If anything, they looked right at home in the coalface of Super League rugby.
Part of my problem with this ‘size’ argument is that I don’t recall Sean Long, Andrew Johns or Stacey Jones winning any bodybuilding contests during their career. You see, most teams don’t want a specimen of brute masculinity as their pivot. They want someone with a decent rugby brain who can pass well, has a good kicking game and preferably has a bit of pace. The pace thing is important in relation to size as well, because I suspect any attempt to bulk Tomkins up too much is going to reduce his pace and his acceleration (which is where msot of his running threat comes from at this point). Whilst it would certainly nice to think that Tomkins will fill out into a more robust figure as his body develops, it needs to be minimised how much that affects his style of play. It’s one thing to become an intimidating figure due to your size and physical nature, but it’s quite another to intimidate the opposition with the brilliance of your play.
It’s quite obvious that this Wigan side is better when they have a sprinkling of youth. Perhaps they simply have too many imports, but even more crucially I think that the more senior players have seemed jaded in the opening few weeks, like they can’t quite be bothered this year. The kids want to play for Wigan and that motivational aspect cannot be overlooked. Youthful exuberance can be infectious and it really wouldn’t surprise me if this win sparks a minature revival of sorts at Wigan, as the players are reminded of something that can be overlooked in professional sport: it’s a game, and games are supposed to be fun.
Will Tomkins and Ainscough end up as world-beaters? Who knows? They’re only 19 and there’s still plenty of time for them to experience some of the more debilatiating lows before they bloom. I’m not saying they should stay as saplings for their whole careers either, and they wont – a combination of Wigan’s condtioning coaches and indefeatable human biology will see to that – but size should not be the be-all and end-all for young players – especially backs, and especially ones with undeniable talent.