Rugby

Rugby League legends clash for last time with Super League Grand Final spot at stake

After combined careers totalling 865 domestic appearances, nine Super League Grand Final triumphs and six Challenge Cup wins, two of rugby league’s most talismanic figures will take to the pitch in Perpignan on Friday in the knowledge that their game is almost up.

Either James Roby or Sam Tomkins will feature in their final match in the Super League play-off semi-final between Catalans Dragons and St Helens, with the winner earning one last shot at enhancing those already-historic statistics in the Grand Final later this month.

While Roby and Tomkins have been at pains to play down the significance of their impending personal retirements, the significance has not been lost on the sport with Saints head coach Paul Wellens convinced it may never again hail stars of such longevity and records of sustained success.

“They are maybe the last of their era,” said Wellens, whose side kept alive their hopes of rounding off 37-year-old Roby’s career with an unprecedented fifth-successive Grand Final win when they nudged to a 16-8 victory over Warrington last week.

“I don’t think anyone will be hitting the astronomical numbers that James Roby has hit in terms of appearances. Players get struck down more with concussions and suspensions and we are looking to reduce the number of games we play each year.

“Sam is someone I was playing against back in 2008 or 2009 when he burst onto the scene with Wigan in a play-off game at Knowsley Road.

“I was like, ‘who is this kid?’ because I was taken aback by someone who came onto the field and really troubled us that night. You just knew at the moment you were playing against a special player and that’s proven to be correct. He’s been one of Super League’s best ever.”

For Tomkins, who won three Grand Finals and two Challenge Cups with Wigan before moving on – via a stint in Australia’s NRL – to make a huge impact on Catalans’ development in 2019, the possibly of culminating his career by facing his former club at Old Trafford remains at the forefront of his mind.

Catalans were pipped to the League Leaders’ Shield on the final day of the regular campaign, but victory over Saints would confirm their second Grand Final appearance against the winners of Saturday’s second semi-final between Wigan and Hull KR.

“The dream ending would be playing Wigan at Old Trafford and winning,” admitted Tomkins.

“I want nothing more than to bring silverware to the Dragons, so to be able to be a part of it in my last-ever game would be a dream come true.

“I’d go as far as to say it would mean more to me than any other trophy I’ve ever won.

“All year people have kept saying, this is your last time doing something – the last time at Wigan, or the last time at St Helens. None of them have really mattered, but this one does.

“The last time playing at home will certainly be special, but I don’t want this to be my last game.”

Tomkins and Roby played together for England on numerous occasions – notably at the 2013 World Cup – and despite their enduring domestic rivalry as respective stalwarts of the sport’s most successful rival factions, the 34-year-old had plenty of praise for his rival.

“He’s been the most consistent player for well over a decade,” said Tomkins. “I don’t know how he is still going at his age. He is a legend of a bloke. Everyone in rugby league knows what a great servant to the game he has been – but hopefully it will be his last game this weekend.”

Xural.com

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