Sam Tomkins has delivered a major boost to Wigan and England by ruling out the possibility of following his older brother Joel to rugby union for at least three years and signing an improved contract that will make him comfortably the best-paid player in the Super League.
Tomkins, who produced his best international performance in England's 36-20 Four Nations defeat by Australia at Wembley on Saturday, had been strongly linked withboth union and Australia's National Rugby League since joining a London-based player-management agency with his brother in August.
But whereas the senior Tomkins will now head for Saracens after the Premiership club agreed to pay a transfer fee of £250,000, the junior one has accepted an upgraded deal with Wigan thought to be worth around £300,000 a year and which will allow the Rugby Football League to promote him as the face of British rugby league ahead of the 2013 World Cup.
"The increase is nice but my first thought was what do I really want to do," said the 22-year-old full-back, who was booed by fans of other clubs when playing for England against the Exiles at Headingley last summer but will now be saluted as a rugby league hero. "It's rugby league and I know I'm not too bad at it. In rugby union, who knows?"
He confirmed that the recent promotion of Shaun Wane, who has been a key figure in his development, to succeed Michael Maguire as Wigan's head coach had been a factor in his decision to stay and he is now looking forward to teaming up with his younger brother, Logan, a 19-year-old hooker, in the Super League next season following Joel's move south.
Joel Tomkins, who turns 25 in March and made a promising switch from the second row to centre for Wigan last season, is thought to have agreed a four-year deal with Saracens and the two clubs have announced a partnership agreement after several weeks of negotiations. The former Wigan captain Andy Farrell, who was at Wembley on Saturday with his son Owen, is on the Saracens coaching staff.
Wigan's owner and chairman, Ian Lenagan, said: "Joel wished to move to the south of England and take his chance at rugby union. Wigan would not step in the way of a player with such clear ideas to leave and are very happy with the financial compensation received. He is joining an excellent club in Saracens.
"We are thrilled that we have reached an agreement with Sam for his long-term future. The new contract will rightly make Sam one of the highest-paid players in the club's history in recognition of his outstanding talents which he has demonstrated at club and international level. I am fully aware of rugby union's interest in Sam. However, it gives me great pride that we are able to retain and reward one of the sport's brightest talents."
"It's an outstanding story for the game," said Steve McNamara, the England coach who welcomed Tomkins back to the squad's Loughborough base on Monday evening to step up their preparations for Saturday's crucial game against New Zealand in Hull.
"Our young players in the England squad have all been making massive strides on the international scene in the last 12 months. Keep them together and something special will happen in 2013 – they are on the verge of it now. Sam staying will reinforce to others that we have a bright future. I think Wigan have done a great job."
McNamara also remains hopeful that Jamie Peacock will be fit to lead England in Saturday's game, which will determine which of the teams qualifies to face Australia in the Four Nations final at Elland Road on Saturday week. The captain suffered a knee injury early on against Australia but scans are thought to have eased initial fears of serious damage.
Tony Williams, the Manly forward known as T Rex who was put on report for a high tackle on Ben Westwood, has been suspended for one match by the Four Nations disciplinary authorities, meaning he will miss the Kangaroos' last qualifying match, against Wales in Wrexham on Sunday. Craig Kopczak, the Bradford prop who has been outstanding in Wales's defeats by England and New Zealand, has also been given a one-match ban after being found guilty of a dangerous shoulder charge that left the Kiwi forward Sam McKendry with a broken jaw. Both he and Williams have the right to appeal.
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