Why the Russell family wandered from league to football

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Tate Russell has quickly caught the eye after just two appearances for the Wanderers

After a distinguished but injury-interrupted rugby league career, Ian Russell only had one sport in mind for his son Tate.

Having himself played football until he was 18, the 1992 Dally M Lock of the Year had no doubts about enrolling his son in the round ball game when the time came to pick a code.

The former Illawarra Steeler was plagued by injuries throughout his career and the physical aftermath left him set on a footballing future for his son. 

"It was more of the fact that later in life all the tackles have taken a toll on his body," Tate Russell explained to Goal.

"He enjoyed soccer, he was playing until he was 18 as well. 

"Dad enrolled me in soccer and he loves it just as much as I do. It was a bit of a no brainer for him. 

"I think he was more excited than me or just as excited when he found out I was starting, making my debut against Victory."

As the cameras panned to his dad in the stands, Tate's debut was one to remember with the 19-year-old defender a standout performer for Western Sydney Wanderers against Melbourne Victory as they fell to a late 2-1 defeat.

Deployed at right-back in the absence of Socceroo Josh Risdon, Russell more than left his mark and revealed the call-up was somewhat of a surprise but still not enough to rattle the composed teenager.

"On game day I found out and just switched my mindset to what I had to do against Victory," he said.

"They were very good on the day. Some very classy players. I was just trying to focus on me and what I had to do."

While for some Russell's rise to the Wanderers first-team has come out of nowhere, for the player himself it's been a long time coming.

First joining Western Sydney in 2015 from the South Coast Wolves, Russell hasn't stopped pushing himself as he ultimately reaps the rewards of a Wanderers academy churning out plenty of talent. 

"I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with the academy," he said.

"Been brought up and pushed back down - always just looking to fight to get my spot in the team above.

"When I was in the youth team I was just trying to push to get a contract with the first-team."

Though comfortable at right-back, Russell is ready to play wherever Markus Babbel needs him this season as he looks to cement his spot in the starting side.

Making consecutive starts against Wellington Phoenix on Tuesday, Russell came up against one of few other indigenous players in the A-League and is proud to be waving the flag for his people. 

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"Definitely, especially on the weekend versing David Williams where we’re just one of two indigenous players in the league I think," he said.

"Even just hearing Archie Thompson’s words after the game was really humbling, it was good to hear."

Praise is something Tate Russell will have to get used to hearing with the teenager showing plenty of promise as he looks to carve out a football career with his rugby league father proudly watching on. 

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