Warrington full-back Russell jacks up big-game expectations

Matty Russell

Matty Russell

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leeds rhinos boast one of the best back divisions in world rugby, according to opponent Matty Russell.

The Scotland international will line up for Warrington Wolves against Rhinos at Halliwell Jones Stadium on Friday and admits it is a massive challenge for the improving hosts.

“They beat us at the start of the season, but it was a pretty tight game,” Russell said of table-topping Rhinos. “Hopefully we can get the win against them at our place this week, but they have got a really good backline and they can punish a lot of teams.

“They have probably got one of the best backlines in the whole world in rugby league, so we need to control them. They have got a good forward pack too, they are going well and they are confident, so they are probably the team to beat.”

Russell faces an intriguing head-to-head battle with Rhinos’ in-form No 1 Zak Hardaker.

“He is a really good player,” said Russell. “He has only been playing full-back the last two years, so he has come on a lot.

“He is definitely confident, he is taking the ball up well and making a lot of good yards. It is good to play against the best and compare myself and see I how I go.”

Russell began his career at Wigan before a season with Australian club Gold Coast Titans.

He returned to Super League this year, after a series of eye-catching performances in the World Cup and now feels he is getting back to somewhere near his top form.

“It took a bit of time getting used to it,” he admitted. “I was injured for the first six weeks so I think my match fitness was the main thing I needed to work on, as long as my ankle was all right.

“Now I am getting into the flow of things, I think as we get better as a team I will get better as a player. We are getting back-to-back wins now. We struggled in some aspects at the start of the season, but we are pushing on and getting wins now.

“We are coming up with some good plays and we are really good in D (defence) as well. We will have a look at Leeds, who are a good side and we will do whatever we can to beat them.”

Key men Brett Hodgson, Lee Briers and Adrian Morley were high-profile departures from Warrington’s squad last winter and Russell admitted that had a bearing on how they started the season, but he reckons they are now back among the genuine title contenders.

“It has probably taken us a while to adapt, playing with different players and having different half-backs and things like that,” he said.

“It is good to start getting wins now and I think Tony (coach Tony Smith) is confident we can go on from here.”

Warrington are fifth in the table – the position Leeds won the 2011 and 2012 Grand Finals from – and through to the quarter-finals of the Tetley’s Challenge Cup.

“I think we can definitely climb up the league,” Russell predicted. “I think it’s time we started getting some consistency. We’ve had a few wins and then got beaten by Bradford and things like that. We’ve had a few wins when we’ve just scraped through, but the last three or four weeks we’ve had good displays and I think we will get there in time.

“The main thing is getting back-to-back wins and having everyone playing for each other – things we were struggling with early on in the season. I think now we have got some consistency and we want to go out and give a good account of ourselves against Leeds.”

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