Tomkins recalls frozen fields of junior footy

When you grow up playing junior rugby league there are always little things to get around throughout the season – the gear washing schedule, debate over who is bringing the oranges, and the logistics of lugging cars full of kids to grounds all over the city.

But when the place you grew up happens to be on the outskirts of Greater Manchester in England there are issues us folks down under can't even contemplate.

"It was probably different to playing junior rugby league over here… around Christmas time we would get six or seven weeks where the pitch was frozen solid so we couldn't play," says 25-year-old New Zealand Warriors fullback and Chorley Panthers junior Sam Tomkins.

"If it was snowing we used to have to go and train on carparks and around the roads.

"When I was a kid rugby league was in the winter in the UK, it's changed a lot so it's not quite as bad now, but as you know English summers are just about as bad as winters."

Games in the snow were a bit of a novelty back then for Tomkins and bothers Joel, 22, and Logan 27, but probably weren't such a highlight for parents Andy and Alison standing on the sidelines.

But it paid off in the end, with all three boys now playing professional rugby league – Sam in the NRL with the Warriors and Logan and Joel in the Super League for Wigan. 

"We didn't play in the same teams but we all played at the same club, the three of us," Sam remembers.

"Our mum and dad probably sacrificed their whole social lives for about 15 years for us to go and do that.

"They had to get involved, they were washing kits and everything like that."

Like several players who have spoken about their junior footballing days this week as part of the Play NRL Round, Tomkins wasn't always a star prospect on the field.

"I remember playing in the under-7s and not really knowing what I was doing, but I loved it," Sam says.

"Then I moved to a club called Wigan St Patricks, they are a pretty famous club in England, they produce a lot of professional players and I played there up until I was 16.

"[When] I was about 12 years old, I got put on the scholarship scheme at Wigan.

"Dean Bell, who is currently at the New Zealand Warriors, was at Wigan then. I got a couple of one-year contracts. Just pay-as-you-play contracts, I wasn't one of the standout players at 16.

"I think Dean wanted to get rid of me actually, so I nearly left. But I stuck it out.

"I remember being 16 and begging Dean for a contract at Wigan, he wasn't very keen but a few people stood up for me and got me a deal."

The irony wasn't lost on Sam when about a year and a half ago Bell was responsible for organising the deal which saw the English fullback sign on with the New Zealand Warriors for a world record transfer fee.

"Obviously the tables turned about 18 months ago!"

Rugby league is all about having fun, making friends and staying healthy. The NRL is using this round to help promote junior rugby league and to thank you, our future stars and fans and heroes who help make it all possible.

Join the conversation at #PlayNRL, get your tickets at nrl.com/tickets and get to a game. Talk to your local junior club about signing up as a player or volunteer and join the thousands of people who make rugby league great.