Tomkins ready to smile after ‘dark days’

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‘Fans want a highlights reel, players just want a trophy’ – Tomkins on Saturday’s final
2017 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final – Hull FC v Wigan Warriors, Wembley Stadium (15:00 BST)
Watch live on BBC One, Connected TV & Online, Listen to BBC local radio coverage and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website from 14:00 BST

Sam Tomkins is determined to be smiling at the end of this year’s Challenge Cup final – even if no-one else is.

The Wigan full-back has endured two lengthy injury lay-offs in the past two years that at times left him in the depths of despair.

But those memories, and the experience of two Wembley finals he didn’t make the most of, have left him focused on the fun side of this weekend’s showdown with Hull.

“There were plenty of dark days,” Tomkins said. “The early months are tough. A boot on your foot, crutches… all those days, they are horrible.”

Tomkins suffered disappointment in 2015 when he returned from a spell with New Zealand Warriors in the NRL with a knee injury that ruled him out of England’s Test series against the Kiwis.

He missed most of the 2016 Super League season and then, a handful of games into his comeback, he broke a bone in his foot and missed Wigan’s Grand Final win against Warrington last October.

Tomkins was unable to play in Wigan’s Grand Final win over Warrington last season but was there to celebrate

He finally returned after an eight-month lay off in the Challenge Cup quarter-final in June this year, kicking what proved to be a match-winning drop-goal.

“Yeah, I slipped in unnoticed,” he said. “I didn’t feel out of place in that game. I was probably ready a few weeks before but we’d set the date and it was a case of hold me back and make sure I was fine.

“I was giving the coach and the physios earache weeks before, saying I was ready to go. But in hindsight it was the right thing to do.”

Tomkins is now getting back to the form that made him a world star before his two lay-offs.

He plays in his third Challenge Cup final this week – having won the trophy against Leeds in 2011 and Hull in 2013 – and he says enjoying himself is his priority.

“In 2011, I didn’t enjoy the week. You’ve got your press conference, your travel down to London, you’re sorting hotels for people, you’ve got people asking what’s happening with tickets. There’s a lot of people in your personal life to sort out,” he said.

“I got caught up in that. I let nerves, more than excitement, be a factor.

“In 2013, it was a different experience, knowing what was coming and being able to embrace it.

“You don’t know if you’re ever going to play in another Challenge Cup final. Most Super League players don’t. I’ve learned you’ve got enjoy it and this time I’ll enjoy this now more than ever.”

Tomkins (right) played in Wigan’s Challenge Cup final win over Hull FC in 2013 – a humdrum win over Hull

Many have dubbed that 2013 final the dullest in the competition’s recent history. The rain poured, Hull offered not much of a challenge, and Wigan won 16-0 with Tomkins scoring a try.

So is he hoping for something a little more spectacular this time around, against the same opponents?

“I don’t care what the game is like. I don’t care what the fans think, if it’s dire, if there’s no tries scored. All we want is to pick that trophy up,” he said.

“People say 2013 wasn’t an entertaining game. Well you know what, if you’re a Wigan player it was as entertaining as you want it.

“Fans looking in want flashy tries and they want a massive highlights reel. As a player you don’t care. I don’t care if there’s no tries and we win by a drop goal, I just want a trophy.”

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