Roommates while on tour in England for the Rugby League World Cup with the PNG Kumuls last year, Dan Russell and Jacob Alick already had a special connection and in Round 19, they both celebrated a career milestone by making their NRL debuts.
For Russell, who ran out for the St George Illawarra Dragons in their close loss to the Raiders, the moment was a long time coming after previously spending time with NRL clubs the North Queensland Cowboys as well as the Brisbane Broncos in the Under 20s.
“It was a great feeling honestly … it's just a dream come true and actually a weight off my shoulders for all those sacrifices and just goes to show that you have just got to keep at your dream and keep working hard, training hard and you can live your dream,” Russell said.
“It was very exciting … (you need) massive belief and another thing is just that support around you, just to keep you going and just helping you know you can achieve your dream and they can see it as well.
“There’s always times where you are going to have injuries and there is always going to be doubt in your mind, but that support really got me through and I am so grateful for my family and friends for that,” Russell – who was born in the Queensland outback town of Longreach – said.
Alick made his debut two days later for the Gold Coast Titans and immediately made his presence felt when he appeared to have had a memorable first touch in the NRL after placing a kick in for Alofiana Khan-Pereira to go over, but the try was pulled back.
“For Jacob, that’s awesome, he’s a great football player,” Russell said of Alick.
“I have played a few games with him now and played against him at [Hostplus] Cup level a couple of times and he really deserved that.
"Hopefully both of us can keep our spots for the rest of the year and keep building.”
A dream come true: Alick shares excitement of NRL debut
With discussions occurring around a Papua New Guinea-based bid for a future NRL licence, having more Kumuls-eligible players in the top grade has been celebrated in PNG, with the national organisation congratulating both players for their achievements.
Russell – who is eligible for the nation via his grandparents and father who lived in Madang – said he was grateful for the opportunities provided by the Kumuls which had helped him further his career.
“It came about in a Cup game actually, 2018, when Michael Marum was the Hunters coach and he knew I was eligible and asked if I had interest in playing,” Russell recalled of the origins his unexpected call-up.
“I said ‘of course’ and just from there, playing a few games and to make the World Cup was just awesome.
“Playing for that country, you just know there’s eight million fans behind your back every time you run on and the support you get from them (is great) and the belief we have and the team we have too, with just the passion for the country, it’s an incredible experience and I love putting on that jersey and I hope I can for more games for future.
“It was an awesome experience obviously, I was just happy to be part of the squad, but to play every game and play a few different positions, it was an experience you will never forget and to play in a World Cup is pretty special and our side, PNG, we did awesome, and we are a young side, so it is a very bright future for PNG.”
Match: Dragons v Wests Tigers
Round 21 -
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Since making their debuts, both players have since been named to make their second appearances for their clubs this round, with Russell getting the opportunity to start in the backrow against the Tigers.
“I want to get some wins for this club, and they have given me the opportunity, so the goal is definitely to keep that spot and play for the rest of the season,” Russell said his future goals.
“I have great teammates, a great club, I have met some really mates here and everyone got around me and it was pretty special.
“And we are not far from a win – we are playing good footy, and we have a great group here and have just been unlucky, but we know what to do and it starts Thursday night.”