It’s probably easy for Joel Tomkins to take a wrong turning at Wigan’s plush Orrell training complex.
For the best part of two years, he’s become accustomed to a part of the facility he really hasn’t wanted to: the treatment room. “I try to stay out of there as much as possible!” he joked earlier this week when speaking to TotalRL.
It has hard to believe it’s almost three years since he returned to rugby league following a spell in rugby union – but unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he has spent far too long of that period injured.
But these days, after biting the bullet and having surgery on both his knees last year, things feel different. Brighter. More optimistic. And Tomkins is feeling the benefits. He hasn’t missed a game for Wigan this year – and by his own admission, that’s a string of consecutive games he has every right to be pleased with.
“Rehab and maintenance on the knees is always going because there’s not much cartilage left, but it’s just about being as professional as possible,” he explains. “Injuries are common and when you get to my age you’ve got to learn to maintain your form.”
Tomkins was also not shy to go into detail about the extent of his problems in recent years. Surgery on both knees is quite a thing to endure for someone at the back end of their 20s – but Tomkins admits those dark days were worth it now he’s out of the other side of the tunnel.
“I’m getting stronger each week and my knees are feeling good, which is really pleasing,” he reveals. “They’re actually feeling better every minute so it’s a good place to be in after a couple of really tough years.
“I’m training a lot more; before I had the operations I was just doing team runs and then playing: that was it. I’m training with the lads through the week and that makes it a lot better because you just feel part of it properly again so that’s been a huge positive.”
And Tomkins has more than played his part in what has been a strong start to the season for Wigan results-wise – ahead of a massive run of games for the reigning champions, starting tonight against Leeds – games Tomkins always enjoys.
“This month will tell us a lot about us,” he insists. “We always love going to Leeds and we always have good battles with him. It’s great because we always take a lot of fans over and it’s always a real battle because we try and drag it into an arm-wrestle and they play a different style of rugby.”
Yet you still feel there is more to come from Wigan, and certainly more to come from Tomkins. “Nobody is patting themselves on the back thinking we’ve done anything great,” he says. “We’ve scraped some wins which is good and it’s the sign of a good team – but we’re not going overboard. We’re nowhere near where we need to be.”
But deep down, you suspect Tomkins is probably just glad to be playing his part once again – and he has certainly done that this season.