Give retirement a shot. It pays better, and as a bonus, leaves your body intact. Does shifting to that club really appeal to you? Perhaps fate simply didn’t align for you.
All of these thoughts haunted Dan Russell. In fact, some seemed undeniably true to him. But then again, what good is a dream if the flame of chase extinguishes before the impossible becomes a reality?
Immersed in storylines laid between media boycotts and sticking tapes over logos, there’s a tale worth scribing. It’s about a redhaired Papua New Guinean back-rower who had trouble walking away from his assisting job in teaching to ultimately make a breakthrough into the NRL at 27, challenging the notion of it being a young man’s game.
Doubts continually plagued as age and injuries threatened the crumbling wall of hope. “There’s always a doubt in your mind as you’re getting older and the years are ticking over. With a few injuries, I thought I might have had my opportunity to play in the NRL,” said Russell. “But I knew I could do it.”
Russell hasn’t simply just materialised from the depths of unknown rugby to step into the NRL limelight. He’s been an integral gear in the wheel of the Queensland Cup for quite some time, had appeared in the previous year’s World Cup for the Kumuls, and even spent a slice of time contracted to the Cowboys.
The dream of the NRL finally seemed attainable when Shane Flanagan approached him while spearheading the Dragons as their new coach. A train-and-trial deal of $1000 per week was up for grabs if Russell accepted leaving Queensland, where he led a balanced life, with a blend of second-tier competition matches and assistance in teaching at Brisbane’s Manly State School.
“This is the stuff rugby league players want to talk about,” former Dragon Moses Mbye, a one-time debuting player alongside Russell before making a switch to the Super League, asserts. “That’s the things that make rugby league so good and our game so great. It’s such a good game to bring people together and for people to achieve their goals. Dan is the perfect example.”
“No one should ever give up,” says Russell, whose father, born in Papua New Guinea and lived there for 16 years as Russell’s grandparents served as medics, comments. “As long as you train hard and are persistent at what you want to achieve, anyone can do it. You have to keep that mindset and you can achieve anything – and it can be special.”