Sam Tomkins heads to NZ
Wigan have announced that England full-back Sam Tomkins is to leave the club at the end of the year to move to Australia's National Rugby League.
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The Warriors confirmed one of rugby league's worst-kept secrets at a press conference at the DW Stadium on Monday afternoon when they revealed the reigning Man of Steel has signed a three-year deal with New Zealand Warriors.
Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan said the Super League club have secured a world record transfer fee, eclipsing the £450,000 Wigan paid Bradford for Stuart Fielden in 2007, for the 24-year-old.
"While we are reluctant to let Sam go, he goes with our blessing," Lenagan told the press conference.
Wigan unveiled North Queensland Cowboys full-back Matty Bowen as a straight replacement on a 12-month contract, with an option for a second season, and revealed they have secured an option to re-sign Tomkins after his spell in Auckland.
Bowen, 31, is seen as a stop-gap signing to give Wigan's crop of promising outside backs like Ryan Hampshire and Lewis Tierney another 12 months to continue their development.
Bowen, who has been a big crowd-pleaser in the NRL, was not offered a new contract by the Cowboys but medical checks have convinced Wigan that his knees can withstand a swansong season in England.
"As we lose one special full-back, we ring in another special full-back," Lenagan said. "He's a superb man in terms of helping young players develop."
Tomkins will be the latest of a growing band of leading players to quit Super League for the NRL.
His Wigan team-mate Lee Mossop is moving to Parramatta from 2014, joining fellow England internationals Sam Burgess and James Graham in Sydney.
It is thought Wigan have received a transfer fee of around £700,000 for the 24-year-old Tomkins, who had three years left to run on his contract.
Tomkins, who signed his deal with the Warriors three years ago, said: "This has been a very difficult decision to make but it is now perfect timing for me to make the switch to the NRL.
"It is something in my career I have always wanted to do and this agreement with the Warriors also allows me to return to Wigan in the future.
"The Wigan club have been fantastic to me from day one. I owe them a huge thank you for all they have done and I head to New Zealand with some great memories of Grand Final and Challenge Cup success and some very special times.
"Going to Auckland is a huge step for me and my rugby league career but one I am really looking forward to. Before that, though, I want to end my time with further success with Wigan as we aim for Grand-Final glory and then with England as we focus on winning the World Cup on home soil."
Bowen has spent his entire career with the Cowboys, scoring 130 tries in 270 appearances, and played for Queensland 10 times as well as winning a solitary cap for Australia in 2004.
Wigan coach Shaun Wane said: "Matty Bowen is an excellent signing for us. His qualities as a top full-back are recognised worldwide.
"His defensive game is outstanding and his ability to open up any opposition in attack with his skill and flair is second to none.
"It is fantastic that we have been able to sign Matty and, after speaking to him, it is clear he has the hunger and desire to continue his success with us here at Wigan."
Bowen said: "I am thrilled to be joining Wigan and this opportunity provides me with a whole new chapter in my playing career."
SAM TOMKINS FACTFILE:
1989: Born on March 23 in Milton Keynes, moving north to Warrington at the age of seven due to his father's work as a policeman.
2007: After coming through the club's academy, signs full-time contract with Wigan.
2008: Bursts onto the scene in May, at the age of 19, scoring five tries on his senior debut in Wigan's Challenge Cup fifth-round tie against Whitehaven.
2009 Makes his Super League debut for the Warriors against Harlequins, going on to score 15 tries in 27 appearances playing at stand-off to earn a place in the Super League dream team and being named the club's player-of-the-year. Scores a hat-trick of tries on his England debut against Wales.
2010: Switched by coach Michael Maguire to full-back and is an ever-present as Wigan win their first league title since 1998, scoring 21 tries in 34 matches including one against St Helens in the Grand Final.
2011: In November signs a 12-month contract extension, taking him through to the end of 2016, on the day brother Joel switches codes by joining Saracens. The agreement includes a clause preventing him from speaking to either rugby union or Australian NRL clubs for three years. Later that month, he makes a one-off rugby union appearance for the Barbarians against Australia at Twickenham, playing on the wing and scoring a try in his side's 60-11 defeat.
2012: In October is named Man of Steel after scoring 28 tries, surpassing a career total of 500 Super League points and helping Wigan claim the League Leaders Shield. In November scores two tries for England in a 44-6 win over France to become England's all-time leading try-scorer and goes on to score twice more in the final of the triangular tournament against the French.
2013: Signs three-year deal with New Zealand Warriors after NRL club agree world-record fee with Wigan.