Sam Tomkins: Catalans Dragons star on Israel Folau and being booed while playing for England
England captain Sam Tomkins joined Sky Sports' Brian Carney for a wide-ranging interview in Super League: Off The Cuff Conversations. Watch the full interview online or via Sky On Demand
By Sky Sports Rugby League
Last Updated: 02/07/21 10:09am
Sam Tomkins has revealed how his preconceived opinions of Israel Folau were changed by playing alongside the dual-code international at Catalans Dragons.
Folau, who is set to resume his playing career in Australia after being granted a release from his Catalans contract, returned to rugby league last year when he joined Super League's French representatives.
It was a signing which proved controversial due to the 32-year-old having previously been sacked by Rugby Australia for homophobic comments posted on social media in 2019, and was opposed by rivals clubs.
Those views were among the concerns Tomkins had about the Dragons signing Folau, but the way the Australian conducted himself at the club and performed on the field saw him make an immediate impression on the full-back as a player.
"I'd just read newspaper articles and seen what he posted, and it's not something I believe in and it's certainly not my views," Tomkins told Sky Sports rugby league presenter Brian Carney in a Super League: Off The Cuff Conversations interview.
"When Izzy came into the group I had an idea he'd be this big character where it was all about him just because he'd been pushed into the spotlight, and all I'd seen was him walking into court in a suit and there was paparazzi everywhere - but he wasn't like that, he was a very, very quiet bloke.
"On the field, he was exceptional and on the training field his first day, I was like if someone could describe what a rugby player should be like it's Israel Folau. He's got everything: Strength, speed, skill, he's so athletic. We play because we're competitive and we want to win, and he had that spirit.
On the field, he was exceptional and on the training field his first day, I was like if someone could describe what a rugby player should be like it's Israel Folau.
Sam Tomkins on Israel Folau at Catalans Dragons
"That was something I'd questioned as well: Are we his last resort? Is he just going to come here and cruise and get himself into rugby? That wasn't the case - he worked really hard in the gym, really hard on the field and came up with some good performances."
Catalans head coach Steve McNamara had spoken to the club's senior players about them looking to sign Folau prior to his arrival in Perpignan being confirmed, knowing it was a signing which was likely to cause controversy.
Folau also spoke to the squad early in his spell and Tomkins explained how open he was with his new team-mates.
"Steve spoke to some of the senior players and it had gone on behind the scenes for quite a while," Tomkins said. "Steve and the club understood it was a touchy one, and it wasn't to be made public too early.
"The club came to us and said 'this is what we think and if anyone has a problem with it, or any questions to ask then ask them' and people asked.
"As soon as Israel came into the group, he stood up the front and said 'I'm sure you've all heard of me and have an opinion of me from what has been put out in the media or by other people'. He just said he wanted us to make our own opinion of him personally and he was really open.
"He spoke a little bit about his faith and how big that is to him, and how every word of the Bible he believes. He was open to say if anyone had any questions or wanted to speak to him alone they could do, and I think a few did."
The wide-ranging interview with Carney covered Tomkins' England career too, coming on the back of the 32-year-old being named captain for last week's international match against the Combined Nations All Stars.
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That was a huge honour for Tomkins, who made his national team bow aged 20 with fewer than 30 Wigan Warriors first-team appearances under his belt again Wales in 2009, although his status as a pantomime villain among supporters of some rivals clubs has, on occasions, led to him being booed while on international duty.
The most notable incident came when he was playing for England against the Exiles at Headingley in 2011, when booing started during the warm-up and continued throughout the game.
"I was in an England shirt playing in England getting booed," Tomkins said. "I hadn't really experienced it before and [then England captain] Jamie Peacock said it's wrong, but I was like 'Ah, I'm not bothered'.
"It did bother me at the start and then Jamie said: 'They're doing it because you're a good player, not for any other reason'.
It's a little bit of the pantomime villain for me, the fans' perception of what they see of you for 80 minutes once a week - people don't know me.
Sam Tomkins on his reputation among some fans
"I know JP is a passionate England player and proud to be English, and he said: 'People should be getting behind you, you're playing for England. I don't care what happened when you played for Wigan'.
"It's a little bit of the pantomime villain for me, the fans' perception of what they see of you for 80 minutes once a week - people don't know me. If there's a guy in the stands calling me all sorts, he sees me for 80 minutes a week at work. I don't take it personally."
Watch the full interview with Sam Tomkins in 'Super League: Off the Cuff Conversations', available online and via Sky On Demand.