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Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 18:00 UK

Tomkins targets Cup glory

Wigan's Sam Tomkins

By George Riley
BBC Radio 5 Live rugby league expert

As Kris Radlinski rose from his sickbed to deliver a match-winning Challenge Cup final performance for Wigan in 2002, one 13-year-old among the 62,000 at Murrayfield was inspired.

Seven years on from that thrilling upset of St Helens, the same starry-eyed Wigan St. Patricks amateur is plotting to orchestrate another famous Warriors Cup story.

Sam Tomkins has sparkled this season, rising from the Wigan reserves to Tony Smith's England squad in the blink of an eye. He now has the opportunity to knock Smith's Warrington Wolves out of the competition in the semi finals, just weeks after receiving that shock England call.

When I caught up with Sam this week to chat Challenge Cup, it was easy to understand why he has been able to step up from excitable Wigan fan, to influential Warriors playmaker so comfortably.

Yet alongside this maturity there is still that infectious buzz of a young man who fell in love with this great competition as a toddler.

"This will be my first ever Challenge Cup semi and I hope it's a classic like the ones I grew up watching," said the 20-year-old halfback.

"As soon as we beat Salford to get the semis I've been thinking about it and if I'm honest it's been tough to concentrate knowing I've got such a great chance to get to Wembley.

This weekend is the biggest 80 minutes of my career and the nerves will kick in earlier than usual

Wigan's Sam Tomkins

Tomkins has already grabbed his own piece of history in this most famous of cup competitions, scoring a record five tries on his debut in Wigan's fifth-round thumping of Whitehaven last year. It is a memory as special to him as those from his childhood.

"I grew up watching Adrian Lam when I was a young teen. Andy Farrell and Radlinski too - I've been speaking to Rads about his special Cup memories. I remember going up to Murrayfield for that 2002 Cup final when we beat Saints.

"I went with my local amateur team and just remember the magnitude of the occasion. I can't believe that just a few years later I'm 80 minutes away from being involved in one myself. "

Tomkins is not only involved in this latest Wigan run, he is a central part of the club's bid to lift the sport's most coveted Cup for an 18th time. He and brother Joel have starred in a Cherry and White purple patch that yielded five wins on the spin prior to last weekend's last-minute defeat at St Helens.

"It's an exciting feeling, this weekend is the biggest 80 minutes of my career and the nerves will kick in earlier than usual," he says.

That Tomkins will go up against the coach who handed him his first England call just a couple of months ago, is another big incentive.

Warrington and England coach Smith surprised a few by calling Tomkins into the squad for the game against France at the Stade Jean Bouin, Sam included.

Danny McGuire
Tomkins learned from the influence of Danny McGuire

Although he was an unused member of the squad, it was a huge pat on the back.

"When Smithy called me up I was shocked," he admits. "He just told me he was really happy with what I was doing and wanted to take me over to France for the experience. I was grateful and although it was a surprise I knew I was ready.

"I learned a lot over there, not only from Tony but from Danny McGuire too. Danny's a great player and there's a lot of stuff in his game that I want to develop to improve myself."

"I spoke to Tony a lot. He knows what he is talking about and I learned a lot from him. Above all he's a top bloke as well as a good coach, but I'd like nothing more than to produce a match-winning semi-final performance to knock him out.

"Having my international coach watching me in the biggest game of my life is the biggest incentive I need and I'd love to remind him of how good I can be."

I love Tomkins' confidence. Add that to maturity and some outrageous talent, and you've got a frighteningly good prospect that Smith rates highly.

"I'm glad he has that sort of attitude and wants to prove a point by knocking me out," he said. "That should produce a fabulous rugby league contest."

"He is extremely mature for his age both on and off the field. He has a great temperament and is a fierce competitor so we really need to be wary of him this weekend.

"He does back himself and takes on the opposition, so we will do our homework on him and we may throw a little bit back his way too." That was a telling comment from Smith - rarely one to admit singling out an opposition danger man, let alone give them special treatment.

"I'd much rather Wigan gave you a start instead of him George...that would be massively handy for us". That's more like it Tony.

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see also
Super League Show
17 Feb 08 |  Rugby League
France 12-66 England
13 Jun 09 |  Rugby League
Tomkins signs new Wigan contract
30 Jun 09 |  Wigan
Noble praises stand-off Tomkins
29 Jun 09 |  Wigan
Tomkins cleared to play Hull KR
13 May 09 |  Wigan
Wigan 106-8 Whitehaven
12 May 08 |  Rugby League
Wigan shock favourites Saints
27 Apr 02 |  Challenge Cup
Radlinski makes Wigan team
24 Apr 02 |  Challenge Cup

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