Russia player/coach Eduard Ososkov is determined to mix it with Italy’s NRL stars as the nations come together for the opening match of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup European Zone Qualifiers on Saturday. “Our goals before we start the tournament are high - otherwise there's no reason even being here,” he said on arrival in Padova.

“We also think we can gain some important international experience which we've been missing over the last three-years.” 

A change in administration of the sport has meant that the Bears, who played in the 2000 World Cup, arrive for their matches against Italy Lebanon and Serbia as very much the unknown quantity in the group.

“This will be our first experience against professional players and we are yet to see how our men express themselves. We will know better after the first match,” Ososkov continued.

There is, however, every incentive for progress. “To get to the World Cup Finals in 2013 would mean a lot including full recognition of our sport in Russia as well as being accepted by the Russian State Sports Register.”

His counterpart, Italy Head Coach Carlo Napolitano, is confident that his outfit will make an impact throughout the series.

“It is the strongest Italy side I have coached,” he said. “I think it is better than the one that played and won against Wales last year.”

“We had a strong squad in 1999 when myself and Mini (captain Anthony Minichiello) played and we beat France in Carcassonne. But I think the boys from the NRL will raise the bar for the others in the squad.” 

He has named the 17-men to take on the Russians.

“We have a great bond between all the squad members. We are a unique squad with players living in France, England, Australia and from the domestic game here. The coaching staff and management worked very hard to establish a team ethic very quickly and this is something we have pride in. Our motto is Uno Famiglia - one family. It is a statement that the squad owns and takes pride in,” he continued.

“It would be nice to get a good crowd to the game in Padova, we are looking to fill the place. I don’t think you can get any better than watching a game of rugby league next to the romance capital of world , Venice.”

Italian Azzurri Squad:
Matthew Sands (Grifons PD); Christophe Calegari (Lezignan); Dom Nasso (Monto); Matt Parrata (Mt Isa); Cameron Ciraldo (Newcastle Knights); Ryan Ghietti (Northern Pride); Joel Riethmuller (North Queensland Cowboys); Alex Ranieri (North Sydney Bears); Ryan Tramonte (St Patricks Blacktown); Anthony Minichiello (c) (Sydney Roosters); Ray Nasso, Cederic Prizzon (Villefranche de Rouergue); Ben Falcone (Wentworth); Rhys Lennarduzzi (Wests); Dean Vicelich, Rob Quitadamo (XIII del Ducato); Josh Mantellato (Wyong)

Russian Bears Squad:
Andrey Zdobnikov (Dinamo), Grigory Esin (Nevskaya Zastava), Artem Grigoryan (RBK), Igor Chuprin, Vadim Fedchuk, Vladimir Gotsulyak, Alexey Volkov (Storm), Petr Botnarash, Rustam Bulanov, Mikhail Burlutskuy, Ilgiz Galimov, Sergey Gaponov, Sergey Konstantinov, Aleksander Lysokon, Alexey Nikolaev, Eduard Ososkov, Maksim Suchkov, Vladimir Vlasyuk (RC Vereya)