He might not have had much chance to prove his ability during a disappointing year-long stay with the Gold Coast Titans but Warrington full-back Matty Russell is establishing himself as one of the Super League’s most exciting youngsters.
Following an injury-plagued two seasons with the Wolves since returning to the UK from Australia, Russell has made the number-one jersey his own this season, playing a key role in Warrington’s impressive start to the Super League campaign.
Having never had the chance to witness the Scotsman appear in the NRL, Titans fans will rightly feel a tad frustrated about their club’s failure to get the best out of a clearly talented player.
After breaking into the Wigan Warriors senior team as a teenager, scoring three tries in two appearances, a loan spell with Hull was followed by the move to Australia. Despite initially agreeing a two-year deal with the Titans, the young full-back failed to earn a fair chance under John Cartwright in a disappointing campaign for both the club and the Scotsman.
When it became clear he wanted to return to the Super League, a number of clubs were interested in signing a player who had spent a year not playing senior rugby domestically but had appeared in the World Cup for Scotland.
It was Warrington who won the race, with Russell going on to make 24 appearances for the Wolves in his debut season. Ankle and facial injuries restricted the full-back to just 10 outings in 2015, but the 22-year-old has bounced back this year, breaking 81 tackles and gaining 1979 metres at an impressive average gain of 8,25 metres.
An effective weapon for the Wolves from dummy half, Russell is now one of the first names on Tony Smith’s team-sheet. He is a key member of a team who sit second in the Super League and as of 25th May it is possible to bet on them to win the Grand Final at odds of 9/4.
Coming off a disappointing season all round last year, the Wolves have looked like genuine title contenders so far in 2016. They have recorded wins over Leeds and Wigan, twice, to put themselves right in the mix. There might be a long way to go this year but the Wolves fans have been delighted to see their team’s fantastic start to the campaign.
Another player that has been vital to Warrington’s eye-catching start to the season has been former Newcastle Knights stalwart Kurt Gidley. The 33-year-old made the move to the Super League after a 15-year stay with the Knights, during which time he made 12 international appearances, played 12 State of Origin games and played two NRL All Star matches. While he might be coming to the end of his career, the veteran has looked revitalised in Warrington since his arrival in England, and a Newcastle team with just one win to their name in the NRL this season would probably like to have him back.