Matty Russell: Surfing Wire’s wave to success

Warrington fullback Matty Russell has been one of Super League‘s more exciting talents in 2016, with the Scotland international putting his recent injury woes behind him.

The strong runner has been a real hit in the number one jerset, making 81 tackle busts and gaining 1979 metres, at an average gain per carry of 8.25 metres.

He has run from dummy half 88 times, and that feature of his game is proving a potent weapon for the Wolves so far this season.

Russell feels that he has the players around him now to thrive, and that the Wire could be in line for glory this year.

He is also relieved to put injuries behind him and get a good run of games in the team, after ankle problems and facial damage forced him to spend a lot of the last two years on the sidelines.

“We’ve got a good squad at Warrington this year, and obviously it’s good to have a run of games where I’ve not been injured,” Russell told Love Rugby League.

“In my first year, I played 30 or 32, something like that. So to play that many games and then only play 10 last year was disappointing.

“It’s good for me and my confidence. I think there’s big things to come for Warrington this year.”

Russell is back in his favoured position of fullback now, after a few games on the wing.

Versatilty is something he relishes, however, and he believes it stands him in good stead for later in his career.

“I spoke with Tony Smith [Warrington coach] pre-season and I was picked on the wing, because I’d played a few games there last year,” he explained.

“He was very pleased with how I went on the wing, but, at the same time, he said, ‘Don’t forget your full back role, because if you need to slot in or we play a different formation, you might have to play there.’

“It’s always been in my head, and I’ve trained there a few times, but I’ve trained on the wing too, so it’s good to have that versatility.”

Russell also played stand-off in his younger days, and he may yet play there again in the future.

“I played it in younger grades, in the academy system and that, but I was probably more of a runner at the time,” he said.

“The taking the team round the park, though – I didn’t really crack that. I think I’ve always suited a running game – I’ve even played centre.

“But it’s one for as I get older and start learning different things. Tony’s keen on players being versatile, like Stefan Ratchford.

“He can play anywhere – I think he’s played everywhere apart from prop!

“But it would be good to learn those skills. At Warrington now we’ve got Kurt Gidley and Chris Sandow, two of the best halfbacks in the comp to learn off.

“Even in pre-season, you could tell that Gidley was the organiser, and I saw that Chrissy would sit back and then produce some magic out of nowhere.

“You’ve got the best of both worlds there – someone who can organise us into structure, and someone who’s got off the cuff plays.

“It’s a great mix.”

One thing which did contribute to Russell’s development as a player was signing for Australian side Gold Coast Titans in 2012.

Prior to that, the Scot had been at Wigan, where he made his Super League debut, and had also spent time at Hull FC on loan.

Russell is grateful for the chance that Gold Coast gave him, and he feels that he learned plenty while he was out there, even if the opportunity did come a little soon for him.

“I signed for the first team for the two years, and I just waited for my chance over there, really,” he said.

“I played a few games and the coach was happy with me at the time. He said I’d probably get a crack at the NRL after the friendlies we played at the start of the year.

“But I had a few injuries, and there was form issues, and the coach just kept with same first team each week – he didn’t really change much.

“So I played there and loved it. I loved my experience there.

“Then I played in the World Cup in 2013. All my car and my gear was in Australia, and I was expecting to go back.

“But my agent told me Warrington were interested when the World Cup was on.

“It just felt right to come home, and I was young as well. So it felt right to try and crack Super League before I ever think about going back Down Under again.

“I would go back – I loved it. But I think I was a bit young when I went out.

“I was 18, 19, and I hadn’t established myself in Super League. It’s a big ask to go out there after only eight or nine games in Super League.

“I had a few chances, but I’d like to crack Super League now before I do anything else.”

Russell, who turns 23 early in June, feels that the Australian experience has seasoned him and helped him mature.

“I was living with a player called William Zillman,” he explained.

“He’s probably the most professional player I’ve met in my life.

“He’s real strict with his diet and things like that, and he taught me a few things about life.

“I was young too, I was straight out my mum’s house and living over there.

“I learned a lot of stuff about life, and I was also training with some of the top players in the world, so it was good to pick up tips off them.

“Then I played in the Under-20s, and I was playing against people who are now superstars in the NRL.

“I played fullback against Anthony Milford – I think it was in my first game.

“It was 42 degrees that day! Me and him were going toe to toe all game. He’d do a run, I’d do a run.

“I used to think afterwards for a while, ‘Who was that fullback?’

“And now I see him killing it over there. I always thought he was a really good player.

“It was a good learning curve and good to play at that standard.”

Russell remains committed to playing for Scotland, the land of his birth and his father’s family, despite his English mother and residency qualifying him to play for England.

He is among those observers who feel that the international game in rugby league remains something of a joke, with people being able to swap countries as and when it suits them.

Anthony Milford is one player who has been in the spotlight recently, having to choose between Australia and Samoa.

“It is embarrassing sometimes,” Russell said.

“If a player is homegrown, and all his family are from the country and he’s flipping in between.

“But Milford is probably looking at the money there, you get a bigger wage to play in World Cups and Four Nations.

“So I can see why he might do it financially.

“But if a player’s playing for a country, then I think he should stay loyal.

“They’re [Samoa] not going to grow with people like him leaving. All the youngsters coming through are just going to end up getting picked off by Australia and New Zealand.

“That’s another one, Semi Radradra, I don’t get it, because he’s from Fiji. A bit like Rangi Chase playing for England!”

Russell’s Scottish relatives like to keep in touch with the Warrington star, and he visits north of the border when he can.

It seems he might be helping to spread the rugby league gospel to Scotland too, with his family taking a keen interest in his progress.

“All my dad’s family is from Scotland,” he said.

“I get up there as often as I can, but, obviously, it’s a bit tough travelling up and I’ve not been for a while.

“But I have seen them – they come down here and come to the games, they’re into their rugby league, and I’ve got a lot of family in Scotland.”

If Russell can inspire one or two young Scots with some fine performances in this year’s Four Nations, then hopefully he will be far from the last Scottish-born player to light up Super League.

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