THE country’s best bull riders will have the support of some of the sport’s bravest men when Tamworth host’s the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Iron Cowboy event on November 17.
Mitch Russell, Geoff Hall and Clint Kelly will act as a protection team throughout the event, assisting and defending fallen riders by any means necessary.
Tactics used by the team may include distracting the bull and making themselves a target, or laying across the rider to take the impact of the bull’s horns or hooves.
“When you’re out in the arena, you’re obviously aware of the dangers involved with a thousand-kilo animal, but it’s important to make clear-headed decisions,” Russell said.
“There are big consequences on the line – for the riders, the protection athletes and the bulls.”
A Melville native, Russell has spent many years perfecting his craft, often working alongside fellow protection member Geoff Hall.
“Geoff and I are great mates outside of the arena and that makes a world of difference when you’re out there during competition,” he said.
“You’ve got one another’s back, and you know you’ll do whatever it takes to protect not only the riders, but also each other.”
Hall said the pair had endured their fair share of injuries during their time as protection athletes.
“Being a protection athlete, we get knocked around a fair bit; there are some close calls, but that’s all part of it. It’s the game we love,” Hall said.
“We both fell into being protection athletes, stepping into help when needed.
“From that, we built a reputation and now the protection work is our first love.”
Fellow protection athlete Clint Kelly began his career as a bull rider before making the switch.
“There’s a heap at stake when you’re a protection athlete,” Kelly said.
“You’ve got to try to stay calm, but you also need to be super dialed in and think quickly on your feet. It can be a very tricky physical and mental balance, but it’s what makes the job exciting and satisfying.”
The three will team together during the event at the AELEC Arena, which will see 22 cowboys collectively matched with 52 bulls across a three-hour showcase.
The event will be the last chance for riders to secure points and qualify for the PBR Australia Grand Finals in Townsville on November 23 and 24.