Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Rugby League World Cup 2013 - Italy

Azzuri badge. 

The World Cup is just round the corner.  No, it really is.  Forget about the football World Cup in Brazil next summer, you can experience the Rugby League World Cup ( which begins this weekend (26 October) in the United Kingdom.

14 teams do battle to see who will be crowned World Champions, and one of those teams is Italy.  Yes, the Azzuri has a rugby league team and they play in the opening game in Cardiff against Wales.

Rugby League isn't a hugely popular sport in Italy, especially having to compete with calcio and Rugby Union but it has been played, sporadically, in Italy since the 1950's.  Initally struggling to gain popularity, it virtually disappeared during the 1970's.  The game was revived in the mid 1990's and Italy began to compete internationally with varying degrees of success, culminating in the Azzuri qualifying for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

Italy sealed their place in the tournament after topping their qualification group by beating Russia, in front of 2,500 in Padova.  Another victory against Serbia and a draw with Lebanon saw the Azzuri safely through.

In 2010, the Italian Rugby League championship was launched as a semi professional competition. It is made up of three conferences, with a total of ten teams.   The teams that competed in this year's Italian Championship were: North West Roosters, XIII del Duomo, XIII del Ducato, XIII del Bresà, Arieti Este, Padova RL, Grifons Padova, XIII della Ghirlandina, Firenze RL and Sharks Tirreno.  The championship went to XIII del Ducato, who beat North West Roosters in the final.  Italy is still an emerging nation in Rugby League terms and, as a result,the current World Cup squad is made up of Australians of Italian descent.

Anthony Minichello.  Image courtesy of

Italy, currently ranked 13th in the world, are coached by Carlo Napolitano and are captained by the Australian full-back (of Italian descent), Anthony Minichello.  Minichello is a legend of the game in Australia, and is widely regarded as one of the best full-backs of his generation.  He plays for the Sydney Roosters, who play in the National Rugby League (NRL) competition in Australia and has scored 122 tries in 275 games for his club side.

Alongside Minichello is another vastly experienced player in Anthony Laffranchi, who plays for St Helens in the English Super League competition.  Laffranchi will add much needed experience to the forwards in the tournament, having played over 230 first team games in his career.  Other players to look out for as the tournament starts are winger Josh Mantellato and hooker Ray Nasso, both scorers in the famous 15-14 friendly victory over tournament hosts England on Saturday 19 October 2013.  Veteran halfback Craig Gower, with 14 caps, has been ruled out of the tournament through injury.

Italy begin their campaign against Wales in Cardiff, then face Scotland and finish with a tough game against Tonga.  It will be very tough for the Azzuri to progress, and the task is made even more difficult as only the group winners progress to the Quarter finals.  If Italy do make it through they are likely to face the current world cup holders, New Zealand,  in Leeds.

Odds of around 500/1 to win the tournament speak volumes, but this will be a huge learning curve for them, and can only help to enhance the game in Italy for many years to come.  Hopefully when the next tournament comes around in 2017, the Azzuri will have some born and bred Italians representing their country.

Alessandro Del Piero and Minichello.  Image courtesy of

Follow the fortunes of the Azzuri here  and on Twitter @ITALIA_RLXIII

Forza Azzuri...

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