Italy’s rugby league squad, arguably the strongest the Azzurri have ever fielded, has assembled in Padova a week before the launch of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup European Zone qualifiers. Led by 2005 Golden Boot winner Anthony Minichiello, Carlo Napolitano’s squad was presented to local dignitaries, the regional head of CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, and sponsors on board the MSC Musica cruise liner.

“It’s great to be putting on the blue jersey again,” said Minichiello, who started his senior representative career with Italy in 1999, during the qualifying tournament for the 2000 Rugby League World Cup. Thirteen years later, he feels he’s here to finish what he started. “I played in 1999 and we didn’t get the job done; this time round we want to create history and make the World Cup.”

That tournament, which also featured France, Morocco and Lebanon, was won by the Lebanese, and the two seasoned nations are on a collision course to meet again in what could well be a winner-takes-all clash on 29th October in the Makis Stadium, Belgrade as part of a double header; the host Serbians facing Russia in what will also be the decider in the Milan Kosanovic Cup. Italy begin their campaign in the Stadio Communale del Plebiscito in Padova on Saturday against Russia, a game that will be broadcast live on Sportitalia and sponsored by San Marco Petroli.

“Being a captain is a very proud moment for me,” continued the Sydney Roosters full-back. “My job is just to make sure we all come together and do not get ahead of ourselves – we have to play each game to the best of our ability.”

The quality of the current vintage, which features players from the NRL, NSW Cup, Super League, French Elite leagues, and Italy’s Serie A, has certainly made an impression on Minichiello. “I think the squad that Carlo has assembled is one of the best. The next three games are going to be tough but we are confident we can get the job done. At this stage we are getting to know each other and we will be working out our style of play in the next few days.”

Following the Russia match Italy heads to Serbia for 11-days, during which Serbia and Italy will meet for the first time since the 2009 European Cup 5th / 6th place play-off, which created a considerable rivalry between the two nations. “We don’t know too much about the other sides at this stage,” Minichiello added. “But just listening to the boys talking about the other teams I think it will be a good challenge for us.”

Italy's 2013 World Cup Qualifier Matches:
Italy v Russia
Serbia v ItalyLebanon v Italy

, Stadio Del Plebiscito, Padova 15 October 2011

, Belgrade, 23 October 2011

, Belgrade, 29 October 2011. 1430 hrs