On today’s edition of ‘Starting XVII’, we focus on Italy.
The Azzurri have been one of the surprise packages at the past two tournaments, picking up wins over USA and Wales, as well as draw against Scotland. They are yet, however, to make it out of the group stage.
In qualifying, coach Cameron Ciraldo experimented with several heritage youngsters who are likely to make the final squad, so here’s who we think he’ll include in his starting 17…
Fullback – Mason Cerruto
Cerruto steps into the sizeable shoes of 2019 Dally M Medal winner James Tedesco. The 24-year-old was, to a certain extent, Tedesco’s deputy at the last World Cup, lining up in the no.2 jersey but having stints at fullback when Tedesco was moved into the halves. He was solid in that position and even earned a deal with Canterbury Bulldogs on the back of it, where he still plays for their Canterbury Cup side.
Wingers – Jack Frasca and James Saltonstall
Youth may well be the key with the Italian squad, which is why Frasca is included. The young South Sydney Rabbitoh beats more experienced competitors including Josh Matellato and Richard Lepori to the jersey after impressing in the junior ranks down under. He’s quick and skilful, and will relish the chance to perform on the big stage. Saltonstall’s performances for Halifax could see him play his way into a maiden World Cup squad. He made three appearances for the nation in 2013 but has since been overlooked. That could all change, however, if he continues his form as a utility back at ‘Fax.
Centres – Nathan Milone and Aidan Guerra
Ex-Wests Tigers centre Milone was one of the standouts for Italy at the last World Cup. He’s a strong runner with a good burst of pace and will create several opportunities for the winger outside him. Experienced competitor Guerra has had a seven-year hiatus from the squad, last featuring at the 2013 competition. As he comes to the end of his career, however, he could be tempted to return to the side and act as a leader in what is a youthful line up.
Halves – Jarrett Subloo and Cooper Johns
Two NRL young guns make up the halves pairing. Subloo is the apprentice of George Williams and Jack Wighton at Canberra, and has been a standout performer for their Jersey Flegg squad. Johns, meanwhile, is on the verge of an NRL debut with Melbourne. He comes from a family of rugby league royalty, being the son of ex-Newcastle halfback Matthew and nephew of immortal Andrew, and has noticeably similar traits to his famous relatives.
Props – Daniel Alvaro and Paul Vaughan
This front row combination is the best-case scenario for Italy. There is a chance, however, that Vaughan may be called up by Australia instead. Should both commit to the Azzurri, however, they would form the base of an intimidating and formidable pack. Both are experienced competitors who have consistently held their own in the NRL and will provide experience to the several youngsters in the squad.
Hooker – Dean Parata
Another Championship representative, Parata is set to enter his third World Cup, having been part of the Italy side since 2013. He’ll be competing for the no.9 shirt with youngster Joey Tramontana but his experience could mean he secures the starting berth. He’s compact and quick out of dummy half, as well as being persistent in defence.
Second Rowers – Jack Johns and Luca Moretti
Two NRL young guns make up the back row. South Sydney Rabbitoh Johns joins his brother Cooper in the Azzurri side as a ball-playing back rower. He could easily line up in the halves but his physical presence and durability make him more useful in the forwards. Moretti has been somewhat of a dual-code star throughout his teens, earning call-ups to both the Australian Schoolboys league and union sides in 2018. The aggressive forward has committed his immediate future to the 13-aside code, though, and is on the books at Sydney Roosters.
Loose Forward – Nathan Brown
Similarly to Vaughan, Brown has a chance of being call up by Australia but did feature prominently for the Italians at the 2017 World Cup. He’s a robust forward who compliments Alvaro and Vaughan well and has a good offloading game. His experience would benefit Cameron Ciraldo’s side hugely.
Subs – Joey Tramontana, Alec Susino, Brenden Santi and Josh Carr
There’s a mix of youth and experience on the bench, with three of the four players lining up for what would be their first World Cup. Livewire Canterbury hooker Tramontana played a key part in Italy’s qualification for the tournament and will inject some energy into the side when rotated with Parata. Featherstone’s Susino has made his mark since moving to the UK with Barrow in 2018. He’s the classic enforcing front rower and, alongside Newcastle Thunder’s Santi, provides ideal rotation options for Alvaro and Vaughan. Cronulla Sharks youngster Carr can play anywhere across the forwards, being big enough to mix it in the middle, whilst also having the agility and speed to play closer to the edges. He’s been one of the Shark’s most impressive prospects in recent years.