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Russia land in Italy on Thursday morning ahead of the opening tie of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup European Zone Qualifiers, in Padova on Saturday. The Bears arrive as something of an unknown quantity having undergone administrative change in 2010 but with input from, first, Stuart Wilkinson and now Rochdale coach and former St Helens favourite John Stankevitch, they feel ready for the fray. 

There is no lack of confidence or sense of purpose within the squad after a series of training camps in Russia over the last few months which has focussed on physical and mental toughness. “We've developed, together with Stuart Wilkinson, a programme to enhance the physical and emotional condition of our players and to stabilize our offensive and defensive models,” says the Russian Association of Rugby League president, Edgard Taturyan. “Bearing in mind that there aren’t any pro players in Russia it has been a big job, but we think that mentally the team is ready for the qualifiers.” 

The Bears will draw on the experience of a clutch of capped players led by 31-year-old player/coach Eduard Ososkov and their stylish captain, stand-off Alexandr Lysokon. Other than that duo only Vadim Fedchuck, Andrey Zdobnikov, Vladimir Vlasyuk, and Sergey Konstantinov have represented Russia before. Twenty four year old Lysokon must play well if Russia are to pose a threat to the Anthony Minichello-led Italians. He scored 24 of his side’s 36 points in Russia’s impressive victory over Ukraine last month and has a decade or more of rugby league behind him, having started playing in 1998 as a junior at Vereya, south of Moscow. 

“We're feeling pretty intense; all the boys are working really hard and we have a high team spirit,” said Lysokon, who will win his seventh cap on Saturday. “We're determined to fight for victory in every game, but I think that a good achievement for us would be to make a real mark on the competition.”

Russian Squad:
Andrey Zdobnikov (Dinamo), Grigory Esin (Nevskaya Zastava), Valentin Baskakov, Artem Grigoryan, Ruslan Izmaylov, Sergey Matveev, Denis Nikolskiy, Vladimir Odnosumov (RBK), Igor Chuprin, Vadim Fedchuk, Vladimir Gotsulyak, Alexey Volkov (Storm), Petr Botnarash, Rustam Bulanov, Mikhail Burlutskuy, Ilgiz Galimov, Sergey Gapinov, Anatoly Grigoriev, Sergey Konstantinov, Aleksander Lysokon, Alexey Nikolaev, Eduard Ososkov, Roman Safronov, Andrey Sevostyanov, Maksim Suchkov, Vladimir Vlasyuk (RC Vereya)