FYLDE RUFC three-quarter Sam Russell reckons he has become a transformed character since a summer spell in Australia.
Before he ventured Down Under, Russell admits he was too much of a Jack The Lad, failing to show the required dedication needed to have any chance of making a go of his fledgling career.
Now the stint playing in Western Australia has opened his eyes on what is required to make the most of his talents – and instead of being Jack The Lad, he hopes to persuade the Fylde coaches that he is man enough to hold down a regular place in the successful National League One side, currently second in the table prior to tomorrow’s home match with Rosslyn Park.
Playing rugby was something of an after-thought as Russell decided to embark on his journey to Australia earlier in the year.
Russell played for the Rockingham club and trained and played with the Western Australia squad.
Russell, 19, said: “I just thought I would go there and do a bit of travelling. It didn’t work out like that, and I got collared by a team and played rugby.
“Playing for Rockingham was a pretty similar standard to Fylde.
“Mentally and physically it has helped me – I was a bit of a Jack The Lad and going out, as someone would do at my age.
“But because they live, eat and breathe rugby in Australia, it has been drilled into me what is needed.
“It has rubbed off on me and kept me straight, and it has made a massive change.
“I never used to put in the extra yards – I used to try and cut corners and all the rest of it.
“But going over there has brought out the best in me. We should all learn more from Australia.”
Russell has had to work his way back into first-team contention, but after a number of impressive displays for the second team, he got the call for the senior side for the emphatic win over Coventry last Saturday, playing on the wing.
He said: “It is good to be back and involved in a good set-up with Brian Ashton and Mark Nelson.
“I made my debut for Fylde two seasons ago when I was 17, and I had a good run, playing 12 or 13 games.
“I have been training for a month, doing my shift in the second team, but then Mark Nelson gave me my chance, which I appreciate.”
Russell’s size and approach is not of the conventional three-quarter.
He said: “I am more than a yards runner than a Nick Royle-style runner. People look at me and think I am a crash merchant and the like, but I am keen to show people that I can pass as well.
“If I can attract two opposing players, then hopefully there will be a gap for someone else for me to put them in.”
Russell says he is willing to play wing or full-back, although his preferred option is in the centres.
“My main aim now is to get a good run and keep the shirt. It’s going well, and I hope I get more opportunities and that I take them.
“When we start clicking early, no team is going to handle us.
“If we keep going the way we have, I don’t see why we can’t be a top-three team.
“We are going to compete, but it is a long season.
“We need strength in depth. We have struggled at times at No.7 and in the front row, but so far we have played our way around that by showing character.
“I feel a bit exposed on the wing, but I do my job, though if I am honest I would like to be a 12 or 13 and establish myself there.”
Russell says there are several options open up to him as he looks forward to carving a successful career – in whatever hemisphere it develops.
“I have built bridges in Australia, and I have been offered a contract to go back.
“A mate of mine from Australia – Ryan Tyrell – has just signed for Cardiff Blues, and so now I have links there as well.”
What is particularly pleasing for Fylde is Russell has progressed to the first team after first playing for the club when he was only five.
Russell said: “I have played at Fylde since I was involved in the under-sevens, and worked right the way through to senior colts.
“Dave Wilks and Alan Holmes, when they were here, set up a really good academy, and there are now quite a few players coming through.”