Barry Russell is pretty laid back for a first-grade footballer. He is
never ruffled, never nervous and never lets the heat of the moment get to him
He has a pre-game routine and a list of goals which he aims for each week.
In his own words and those of coach Alan Fitzgibbon, he is "low key".
Russell is, however, excited about playing this weekend. It is Cronulla's
chance to make the grand final for the third time in the club's 21-year history
and Russell aims to play a part in it.
It is also his first game back after sustaining a shoulder injury about a
month ago. He was sadly missed during Cronulla's 26-8 loss to Canterbury last
The Sharks' halfback has come of age this season after being troubled by
several shoulder injuries during the past two years.
He has broken both collarbones twice and had three shoulder operations.
Relegated to reserve grade last year when he was unable to force Ron Quinn
out of the halfback position, he came into the first-grade side early this
season when Cronulla had lost most of their matches.
Winning this year's Rothmans Medal was an unexpected thrill for the
23-year-old. The achievement was all the more remarkable because he missed six
games through injury.
Although he has been selected in the side for the final against Balmain,
Russell will face a fitness test possibly as late as Sunday morning.
The outcome of the fitness test could be crucial to Cronulla's chances
because the confident Tigers are on a roll after winning five sudden-death
matches to reach the preliminary final.
The Russell-Gavin Miller attacking combination was largely responsible for
the Sharks winning the minor premiership this year. Russell's absence on Sunday
may be the difference between the minor and the major premiership.
"I have the test tomorrow and I'm feeling confident about it," Russell
said. "I've just been out running - I'm a bit of a fitness fanatic - and I feel
"It's pretty much a spontaneous thing with Gavin. He seems to be there at
the right time. We don't work on it or anything. Both of us winning a
medal(Miller won the Dally M Player-of-the-Year award) was a great thrill for
the club, the shire and for Gavin and I. We didn't set out to do it but winning
a prestigious award has made the season better.
"It's also been a great advantage to play in a team with players like
Andrew Ettingshausen and Jonathan Docking. I grew up with these guys and played
juniors with them.
"There's a lot of team spirit. We go out on weekends and socialise
When it comes to socialising, Russell always has his fiancee Jodie Tonitto
close by. The couple have been together for seven years and plan to marry next
"Jodie provides great support for me," he said. "She's my best critic and
quick to sum up how I've played after a game. And it's the same with her family
and mine. It really helps to have support at home."
Tonitto describes her husband-to-be as tough on the field but a softie at
heart. "He's a great practical joker, he loves mucking around," Tonitto said.
"He does things like ringing up his football friends and leaving messages
that a reporter has rung for a story.
"It (winning the Rothmans Medal) was such a thrill, especially not
expecting it. I think that was the best part. This has been his best year. It's
good after all this time that he's been rewarded."
Cronulla officials agree that Russell has finally begun to live up to the
potential he has always shown, although they are quick to play down suggestions
that Cronulla cannot survive without him.
"We don't treat Barry as the be-all and end-all, but he is certainly an
important part of the team," president Mike Lyon said.
"The best thing about our charge towards the finals is that it has been a
team effort, everyone has been pulling their weight.
"We don't feel that he's been the main reason for our success but he has
certainly contributed," he said.
Lyon also lamented the value Russell could have been to the club before
this year had injuries not taken such a toll.
"He has had a lot of injury problems but he is just starting to blossom."
"He's always had fantastic potential."