Matt Bowen: Can Wigan's new signing replace Sam Tomkins?

By Phil CartwrightBBC Sport
Bowen plays down Tomkins comparison

While fans, reporters and the rugby league community were digesting the departure of Sam Tomkins for a world-record fee in September, Wigan were quietly announcing the arrival of the man likely to replace him.

Matt Bowen agreed a one-year contract with the double winners on the same day that it was confirmed England international Tomkins, Super League's star attraction, was in Australia's National Rugby League.

"There's a fair bit of pressure there, with obviously Sam leaving," the former Australia full-back, 31, told BBC North West Tonight. "I'll just play my own game and whatever happens, happens.

"I'm no Sam Tomkins, but I'll do what I did back in the NRL and hopefully the fans will be happy with that."

The challenges ahead are simple enough for a player who achieved legendary status during 13 years with North Queensland Cowboys; replace the biggest name in Super League and help Wigan repeat their double-winning season of 2013.

A tough ask for any player, but anyone doubting Bowen's credentials should think again.

Antony Stewart, chief sports writer at the Townsville Bulletin, told BBC Sport: "Fans of other clubs would tune in to watch North Queensland games just so they could see what he would do. Some of the tries he scored during his 13 seasons in the NRL would leave you shaking your head in disbelief.

"If you are trying to promote the sport, Bowen is your man. He is ridiculously skilful, fearless and as clean-cut as they come.

"He was a poster boy the NRL could bank on year in, year out.

"There's always pressure, but more so from the fans. I don't think Matty will be weighed down by the aura of his predecessor.

"After all, Matt has not only played in the NRL, but State of Origin - where he has single-handedly won matches - and represented Australia.

Matt Bowen
Matt Bowen became a huge Cowboys favourite and was given a hero's send-off after his final home match

"Perhaps the biggest thing for him to adapt to is going from the blistering heat of Townsville to his chilly new base in the north of England."

Not that Bowen has had much time to get used to the weather. He arrived in England at the start of January, and within a week he had been whisked off to Florida for a pre-season training camp with his new team-mates.

The freezing temperatures in Wigan have been a shock, but he is clearly excited at the prospect of fulfilling a career ambition.

"I always wanted to play in Super League but playing for Wigan - with the history they have behind them - I will be very honoured to put the jersey on when it is my turn," said Bowen.

That he is still even playing the sport owes to his determination to overcome the injury problems that have threatened his career in recent seasons.

Having battled his way back to full fitness after knee reconstructions in 2008 and 2009, more knee surgery last year and uncertainty about his future with the Cowboys left Bowen contemplating retirement.

But a return to form in the closing weeks of the last NRL campaign, and the chance to test himself in England, persuaded him to carry on for at least one more year.

"Honestly, before he exploded back into the form we know and love in the final six rounds of last season, I wondered whether his time was up," explained Stewart.

"But the way he finished the season, it's clear he has a good year or two left in him. The main thing is that he is enjoying himself. When Matt is at his best, he is having fun.

"Perhaps the ongoing speculation about his future weighed heavily on him for much of last year. As soon as there was clarity, he was incredible. I have no reason to think he won't be a success at Wigan or in Super League."

Bowen is one of six new arrivals at the DW Stadium as coach Shaun Wane's new-look side attempt to repeat their and victories of 2013.

New additions were needed, given that Tomkins was not the only player to leave Wigan on a high last October.

Experienced winger and England prop have also headed to the NRL, while forwards and have made shorter trips to Salford Red Devils and Hull FC respectively.

In have come London Broncos duo promising forward from Bradford Bulls, USA international and Leigh youngster

"The boys we've brought in are very talented players and are used to challenging themselves," said captain Sean O'Loughlin.

"It is a very different side and there's probably a bit of work for them to do, to get used to the way we play and up to speed with the way we do things. But from what I've seen, they look like they'll do a really good job for us.

"There are some big boots to fill for Matt, coming in behind Sam, but he's a very different player to Sam. He's been around the block in the NRL for a long time and he's a very clever player. He'll offer us a lot.

"When he came back from injury last year, he was really explosive for the Cowboys. His footwork is going to be very exciting for us."

Wigan captain Sean O'Loughlin and coach Shaun Wane
After winning the Super League and Challenge Cup double last year, Wigan Warriors captain Sean O'Loughlin and coach Shaun Wane are targeting more silverware in 2014

Up first for the Warriors is Friday's home fixture with Huddersfield Giants, winners of the League Leaders' Shield in 2013. It is Wigan's only Super League outing before they head down under to face NRL champions Sydney Roosters in the

Wane added: "We won two trophies last year but there are areas in which we need to improve. We've spent pre-season doing that.

"All the players are motivated - they're not happy with just winning two trophies.

Wane backs signings to make impact

"We lost seven out of our last nine Super League games and there are obvious areas to improve. The next level for me is to perform in those big games and make sure our league position is very strong, with good performances consistently throughout the year."

Much of Wigan's play over the past few seasons was getting him in positions to utilise his lightning speed, fleeting footwork and devastating finishing ability to full effect.

Can Bowen take the same pivotal role and

"Obviously, as with any player, it will come down to luck with injuries," concludes Stewart. "But Matt's love of open, free-flowing attacking rugby league is made for Super League.

"He'll have a target on him, being a big-name Australian recruit, but he should thrive off that. I would not be shocked if he ends up being the Super League's leading try-scorer."

BBC Radio 5 live and 5 live sports extra has regular live radio commentary throughout the season of Super League and Challenge Cup from the fourth round onwards, plus commentary on BBC Local Radio from the Super League, Championship and Championship One.

In addition, the BBC Sport website will provide comprehensive news and match reports.

The BBC's current rugby league offering on television includes the weekly Super League Show, live Challenge Cup action from the fourth round onwards and Super League play-off highlights.

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