An excited Dan Russell checked back into WIN Stadium on Thursday for his opening preseason training session less than three weeks on from a successful Pacific Championships campaign with Papua New Guinea.
The Kumuls’ tournament culminated in a 32-12 Pacific Bowl win over Fiji Bati in front of a 14,809-strong Port Moresby crowd with Russell topping the side’s tackle count.
The 27-year-old was thankful to have been afforded another opportunity to don the Kumuls jersey and get the job done alongside his teammates.
“It’s always great playing for them,” Russell said.
“A good win against the Kukis, a bit disappointing in the second game but we knew we could turn that around. We’ve got a good group there and to finish the season like that was pretty incredible.”
Russell was also thrilled to bask in the “incredible” atmosphere that the nation continues to create when sides tour.
“[The atmosphere] is why I love playing for my country. You get that every week too and just the vibe around town, you know, even when you’re training and stuff, it’s nothing like anywhere else,” he said.
'Big change, and I noticed that in the group"': D-Russ is back!
“It’s incredible and I love it. I wish everyone could play a game up there because it’s pretty special.”
It was also the first time that Russell shared the international stage with Dragons teammate Jack de Belin who declared his Kumuls allegiance at the end of the season.
“It was awesome. I’m glad he decided to give it a crack and I know he had a ball and wants to do it again, which I knew he would,” Russell said.
“He was really massive for us. I’m looking forward to playing more with him in the future.”
Now with 10 international caps under his belt, Russell has begun building on his leadership qualities whilst in camp with the Kumuls which he hopes will serve him well back at club level.
“10 games now as an international, which is huge. I still remember my first game,” he said.
“I take a lot out of those games, and I learn a lot coming back to the Dragons. There’s a lot of new boys and lot of young boys, so I need to stand up and lead by example and that’s something that I really want to take with two hands this preseason.”
Currently a member of the Dragons’ top 30 squad, Russell says it was “good to be back” with his teammates for a tough field session in Wollongong.
“The body’s feeling good after the first real blowout. It’ll only get better and it’s good to be back. The lungs should be pretty good too,” he said.
“The vibe’s really good. Big change and I noticed that today in the group… Everybody ready to rip in for the preseason.”
Russell, who has previously worked with new head coach Shane Flanagan at the Kumuls, lauded the coaching staff’s “professional” approach and the environment that has been created.
“Just professional. I’ve had a bit with him at PNG before and just what he brings and the respect from the players is huge,” he said.
“Dean’s come in too which is great and [Ben Woolf] and [Ryan Carr] have been good too. It’s been a good change and I’m looking forward to it.”