Sam Tomkins & Mike Cooper Q&A
Wigan Warriors full-back Sam Tomkins and Warrington Wolves forward Mike Cooper have spoken to sportinglife.com in this exclusive Q&A feature ahead of this weekend's Dacia World Club Series.
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League Leaders' Shield winners Warrington have the returning Cooper in their ranks to take on Brisbane Broncos at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in the first match of the two-game Dacia World Club Series on Saturday night.
Wigan, who won the 2016 Super League Grand Final, are without the injured Tomkins for their clash against the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, who defeated Melbourne Storm 14-12 in last season's NRL Grand Final, at the DW Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Cooper has returned to hometown club Warrington after two years with NRL outfit St George Illawarra Dragon and he's ready for Saturday's big game.
He told sportinglife.com: "It's great to be back with my hometown club. I've never played in a World Club Series before but I know how good the atmosphere will be on Saturday night at the Halliwell Jones Stadium as the Warrington fans are renowned for making a lot of noise.
"It will be interesting to see how the Brisbane players cope with that but these big games are the ones that you really want to play in and it won't get any better than Saturday night."
"It's great to be back with my hometown club. I've never played in a World Club Series before but I know how good the atmosphere will be on Saturday night at the Halliwell Jones Stadium."
Tomkins is part of the England squad with Cooper and also enjoyed a two-season spell in the NRL with New Zealand Warriors after joining the club for a world-record fee from Wigan.
The full-back returned to the DW Stadium for the 2016 season but he's currently ruled out of action by a foot injury and has confirmed that everything remains on track for a return to action in April.
"The surgeon has given me the all-clear and everything's healed in my foot so hopefully at some point in April I'll be able to make my comeback. I'm confident that's when I'll be back," Tomkins told us.
"It's frustrating to miss any game," he replied when asked about missing Sunday's clash with the Sharks.
"You want to be playing especially with the World Club Series this weekend. That's an extra bit of a down feeling of the job as I really want to be out there. I'll come back from it though and be ready to go."
We've got the verdict of Tomkins and Cooper on a range of rugby league issues ahead of the World Club Series, which is being televised live by Sky Sports.
Both players are expecting tough challenges for the Warriors and Wolves this weekend but there are differing views on if more World Club Series matches should be played in Australia and the role of the Super 8s in Super League.
We've also got opinions on the hectic Super League schedule, the impact of increased media coverage and England's hopes at the World Cup later this year.
How does Super League compare to the NRL ahead of the World Club Series and what are the chances of a Warrington and Wigan double?
Sam Tomkins: The top teams in Super League are of a similar standard to the top teams in the NRL. The World Club Series obviously hasn't really shown that in the last few years as Super League sides unfortunately haven't played too great. I've been lucky enough to have played in both competitions and the difference over there is that every team in the league is quality. We've got a little bit of a gulf in quality from the top to the bottom of Super League which does have an effect.
"We've got a little bit of a gulf in quality from the top to the bottom of Super League which does have an effect."
This weekend, Warrington are a good side and we can win any game as well. Warrington and ourselves are both underdogs but I think there's definitely a chance of the double. Warrington have a new-look side and Kevin Brown can make a difference if he recovers from the injury that he picked up in training. Cronulla are a top side and they've got class all over the field. It's important that our defence is the focus as they can break you from anywhere. Our squad looks ready and I'm sure both teams are going to put up the best possible fight.
Mike Cooper: The game is played differently with two referees in the NRL and one in Super League. It's a lot more attacking here than it is in the NRL, where it is much more defensive and completion based. In terms of skills, I don't think there's any difference. The intensity is probably a bit different every week in the NRL as you tend to find the quality is there every single week whereas you can get the odd blowout game in the Super League.
We certainly have all the ingredients at Warrington to be the first English side to get the win in the World Club Series for some time. I think Wigan have the same chance as we do too. It's going to be tough for Cronulla and Brisbane as they've had a long flight over here and just a short preparation time. The weather is completely different from a 40-degree heatwave in Australia at the minute so Wigan and ourselves definitely have a chance.
Watch the World Club Series this weekend exclusively live on Sky Sports. Warrington Wolves take on Brisbane Broncos this Saturday at 7.30pm on Sky Sports 1, whilst Wigan Warriors go up against Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks this Sunday at 2.30pm on Sky Sports 2.
What would you like to see done to improve the World Club Series?
Sam Tomkins: The more we can play against NRL teams the better. It's only going to improve our competition by playing against different teams and different styles. There is certainly a rivalry between Super League and the NRL but the logistics of more games are obviously pretty tough with the countries so far apart. It's rugby league over here that needs the boost rather than Australia so I think it's a good idea that the World Club Series is in England.
Mike Cooper: I think any exposure for Super League clubs playing in Australia to experience what it is like with the media and the pressure is a positive. It can only benefit England on the international stage. It's important that we get as many games over there as possible but also we have to make sure the games here get as much media attention as they can.
I'd like to see a few more clubs involved in the World Club Series. It would be really interesting to have a larger competition and play a few more games but obviously that's not going to happen with the schedule. We already play far too many games in the Super League as it is and the NRL have got a really strict player welfare policy where they won't allow any more games that they've already got. That means I'm not really sure how possible it is to get those extra games organised.
Having played in both the NRL and Super League, what could we learn here from the offering in Australia and New Zealand?
Sam Tomkins: We do a decent job over here. The main difference is money as it's such a massive sport in Australia and New Zealand so every game is on TV. That has a big impact. There isn't the chance to do that over here as we only get two, sometimes three games on TV each week. That is the main reason why it's so much bigger as you can see more of it.
Mike Cooper: It's tough for Super League because financially the NRL is in a much stronger position than we are. We are lucky at Warrington that we have very supportive people in charge of the club but unfortunately not every Super League team is blessed with that. The media attention is a lot higher in the NRL, especially around Sydney and Brisbane where it is the main sport and really is on a different level - like football is over here. We obviously need to follow their lead and get as much media exposure as possible but that is only going to come when we start winning games against Australian sides. That's why it's really important we get this win at the weekend and hopefully that success will help England at the World Cup at the end of the year. The profile of the game will definitely grow when England start beating the Aussies and Kiwis!
Is the Super League season too long and do players have enough of a voice to help improve the competition?
Sam Tomkins: Players can voice their opinions to the club and then the club goes forward with it. We get asked about certain things but people are paid to make sure the game is run right and I don't think that should be left with the players as well.
"We get asked about certain things but people are paid to make sure the game is run right and I don't think that should be left with the players as well."
The system at the moment makes sure everything is entertaining right to the end. You only need to look to last season with the Million Pound Game (when Salford beat Hull KR 19-18 to stay in Super League) and the finish of that to see how much drama there is. It's pretty brutal on the team that goes down as your career is in the balance of one game. It's tough to take but people want entertainment every week. We don't want to get back to the stage with the franchising that teams who were 10th and 11th in the league pack up shop for the year and get beaten by blowout scorelines. This way everybody is always competing.
Mike Cooper: There are far too many games in Super League. If we reach the finals of both the Challenge Cup and Super League then it's a 36-game season and that is a crazy impact on your body. It seems crazy with only a four- or five-week holiday until you are back into it again. It would never happen in Australia as the player welfare system is different over there. We are improving on that and it's really good at Warrington. The game in Australia is run by the senior players and even the juniors coming through have a voice. It's something we haven't got here yet in Super League and I'd like to see as many ex-players as possible working in the game to grow it and bridge that gap between the players and the people who run our competition.
"There are far too many games in Super League. If we reach the finals of both the Challenge Cup and Super League then it's a 36-game season and that is a crazy amount of impact on your body."
This will be the first time I've played in the Super 8s structure. I am more of a traditionalist. I liked how it used to be and that suits me more. However, I'm all for whatever is going to gain the most interest so if the Super 8s are what does it then let's go with that.
The World Cup is coming up at the end of the Super League campaign. What shape are England in ahead of the tournament?
Sam Tomkins: Wayne Bennett wasn't in charge too long before the last series and the boys probably undersold themselves a bit. This year we have a full programme and we're meeting up with Wayne to chat over what we are doing going forward. Now he's got a full year to plan and his full backroom staff are in place to give us a good chance at the World Cup. The standard is getting better every year and the World Cup seems to be better every single time. There is no reason why this year should be any different.
Mike Cooper: Last year was disappointing as we only showed glimpses of what we are capable of. It really didn't click for us but we've got a lot more time together this year so players can get to know the coach and the coach can get to know the players, too. Getting us together as much as possible is going to be very important and I can't wait for the first session. We don't have a State of Origin so there isn't the opportunity to come together as a group. The mid-year test in Australia will be important for us to get time together as a group and we will definitely be a whole lot stronger come the end of this year in the World Cup.