When Dan Russell trots onto the surface of WIN Stadium on Friday night for his NRL debut, over a decade of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice will come to fruition and a lifelong dream will be realised.
Hailing from Emerald in Queensland’s Central Highlands region, Russell was rewarded with a spot in the Broncos’ 2015 NYC squad alongside current Dragons teammates Jaydn Su’A and Michael Molo and made his Queensland Cup debut for Souths Logan that same year.
He would spend four seasons with Souths Logan before making the move north to the Mackay Cutters for a pair of seasons and then back to the Brisbane Tigers for another two.
In 2019, he earnt his first international call-up for Papua New Guinea partnering Justin Olam in the centres and has gone on to make seven appearances for the Kumuls including all four of their World Cup showings last year.
He linked up with the Dragons for 2023 and has made 16 Knock On Effect NSW Cup starts under head coach Bronx Goodwin.
Dan's debut 27 years in the making
Across his state career, Russell has started in every position bar halfback, which is a true testament to his versatility and team-first attitude.
Dragons interim coach Ryan Carr described Russell as a symbol of “everything that [the Dragons] are trying to be about”.
“It’s just a great reward for persistence and hard work for Dan Russell to get his debut at 27,” Carr said.
“It just sort of symbolises everything that we are trying to be about here at the moment, which is just putting the team first and competing hard and being committed and never quitting.
"Multiple times, he could have quit all the way throughout his career, and he hasn’t. He’s kept at it and I’m super happy for him and proud for him and I’m excited to see him play.”
Russell admits that an NRL call-up was not on his mind when he made his way into the team room on Tuesday morning.
“I actually had no idea; it was a massive shock,” Russell said.
“I was just in the team meeting and [Carr] was naming the team and, yeah, number 17 and my name popped up… There was a big roar from the back. I was sitting at the front, and they all got around me. It was a great experience and a great moment of my life. I’ll never forget it.”
He rushed to phone his parents as soon as the announcement was made in a pair of calls that were full of “plenty of emotion”.
“I’m 27 and they’ve taken me everywhere as a kid and it’s been a long journey and even my partner, Bev, they’ve done a lot for me, so it was great. It's something that I’ll never forget,” he said.
“I’ll have to sort those tickets out to fit them all in... It’s a great honour and I can't wait to put that jersey on.”
Russell’s journey to an NRL debut is unique and, through the years toiling away in state competitions, he admits that there were lows but remained confident in his chances to make the leap up to the NRL.
“There was always a couple of doubts, especially through injuries at crucial times,” he recalled.
“The way I am and the person my parents brought me up to be, I knew I’d hang in there and I knew I could do it… It just goes to show you’ve just got to hang in there, train well, and just believe, which I did.”
Russell looks back on his World Cup experience with the Kumuls as a major influence in helping him reach an NRL debut.
“To play in a World Cup gave me huge belief and experience for this opportunity and we had a great side,” he said.
“Just the belief from playing in that and now to get an opportunity at the Dragons, it’s been a great few months and I can’t wait to get out there.”