PANTO season has come early in the rugby league world this year with Wigan’s spiky little full back Sam Tomkins getting a double dose of boos in consecutive weeks.

It is water off a ducks back for hard-faced blokes like Tomkins. If he can take a crash tackle from Sia Soliola I am sure he is not going to go home and cry himself to sleep because the east stand were giving him a bit of verbal barracking. These players are not choir boys, are they?

Three types of players get abuse; the game breakers, the characters and the rogues (not in a criminal sense) – those blokes who possess all three qualities get it in spades.

Tomkins gets under the skin of the opposition and consequently gets stick from opposing fans – just like Sean Long used to cop it from the Wigan faithful when he was in his pomp.

In fact, you can tell when a player’s power is on the wane – the booing, barracking and name-calling eases off.

Although it was out of order Tomkins getting booed by his own England fans at Headingley, was anybody really surprised that Saints fans followed suit? There may be far more productive ways for supporters to use your vocal cords – but ultimately, as long as they are not being offensive, that it the supporters choice. That’s entertainment.

I do wonder, however, whether the commentators and media pundits springing to Tomkins’ defence this week ever hear the abuse James Graham gets from the opposition on a weekly basis?

Fans ultimately pay players wages and also create the atmosphere that make some games crackle, but they do have to be careful when treading the line between banter and downright insulting.

Some barbs from the terraces have wit to them, so when Crusaders fans dubbed Eorl Crabtree ‘Just a Fat Robbie Savage’ they probably got away with it.

Other jibes are simply in bad taste – Chris Joynt used his Star column in 2003 to try and stop a popular side terrace chant mocking Barrie McDermott’s loss of an eye.

Others make life more uncomfortable for spectators watching with their young families rather than the target. So as much as Joel Monaghan expected to get abuse after leaving Australia under a cloud, the woofs have not stopped him from scoring. But it has made it awkward for parents to answer their children’s question, ‘Why are they barking at him?’ Wigan’s fiery packman Gareth Hock will probably get some stick during his first games after serving his ban for testing positive for cocaine, just as Long got it in the neck after gambling against his own team.

But this is all rather mild when you consider that not that long ago rugby league’s first female physios, most notably Vivienne Gleave at Widnes, were told to ‘get them out for the lads’ and black wingers from Clive Sullivan through to Martin Offiah, on occasion, suffered pathetic monkey grunts when they touched the ball. Those days are thankfully long gone.

We have come a long way – so let’s not get into a moral panic over a bit of booing – but we have to remember the code of respect is important in sport and not cross the line or it defeats the object.