How Italy could line-up at the Rugby League World Cup

Drew Darbyshire
Daniel Alvaro, Paul Vaughan and Nathan Brown could play for Italy at World Cup

(L-R) Daniel Alvaro, Paul Vaughan and Nathan Brown could play for Italy at the World Cup

We’re creating how each nation could line-up ahead of the World Cup, in collaboration with He Can Play For. This week, it’s Italy!

In these weekly feature pieces, we are selecting our predicted side who can represent Italy. This can include players born in that country, with heritage to the nation or even residency.

The first eight were France, Jamaica, Cook Islands, Fiji, Ireland, Wales, Papua New Guinea and Greece. Now it is time for Italy

How Italy could line-up at the World Cup

1. Luke Polselli

Italy’s full-back for the last two World Cups has been NRL superstar James Tedesco. However, the Sydney Roosters man is almost certain to represent his birth nation Australia at the World Cup this year. Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has even hinted that Tedesco could captain his side.

But there are plenty of talented full-backs waiting in the wings for a crack at the Italian No. 1 jersey, and Polselli could get the nod.

Poslelli currently plays for the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Queensland Cup. The 23-year-old has scored 21 tries in 23 games in the Q Cup.

2. Richard Lepori

Lepori has plenty of experience within the British game, having made more than 150 career appearances for Oldham, Whitehaven, Rochdale and now Swinton.

The Swinton winger was born in St Albans, Hertfordshire, to an English mother and Italian father. He is now based in the North West but still regularly visits his extended family in Italy.

Lepori, 30, could be Italy’s replacement on the wing for Josh Mantellato, who retired after last World Cup.

AZZURRI: Richard Lepori on his Italian heritage, James Tedesco & playing at a World Cup

3. Nathan Milone

The 28-year-old will more than likely retain his place at centre following the last World Cup in 2017. He scored two tries in three games for the Azzurri.

Milone currently plays for the Wentworthville Magpies in the New South Wales Cup. He played six games for Wests Tigers in the NRL between 2015-16.

4. Brad Fearnley

Fearnley is currently with Penrith Panthers, but he has yet to make his NRL debut.

Brad, alongside his brother Adam, have represented their Italian heritage in the younger age groups. They qualify to play for the Azzurri through their grandmother.

The 25-year-old has mainly been playing for the Panthers in the Jersey Flegg Cup this year, but has also played in the New South Wales Cup.

5. James Saltonstall

James Saltonstall Halifax SWpix
Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix

Saltonstall was born and raised in Halifax but qualifies to play for Italy through his mother.

The Halifax winger has not played for Italy since making three appearances in the 2013 World Cup. Could he be set for a return to the Italian fold?

6. Cooper Johns

Cooper Johns Melbourne Storm PA

Johns has yet to make his Italy debut, but his older brother Jack played at the last World Cup.

Cooper comes from tremendous rugby league stock, with him being the son of Matty and the nephew of Andrew.

The 23-year-old has made eight appearances for Melbourne Storm in the NRL so far and could play in his first World Cup this autumn. He qualifies to play for Italy through his mother’s side of the family.

7. Daniel Atkinson

Atkinson is another player for the Sunshine Coast Falcons with Italian heritage.

The 21-year-old made his NRL debut for Melbourne Storm last year, but was released at the end of the season. Subsequently, he joined the Falcons where he has impressed.

8. Paul Vaughan

Paul Vaughan Italy PA

Vaughan is undoubtedly the most experienced player within this predicted line-up, having played for Italy, Australia and New South Wales on the representative scene.

The 31-year-old has made almost 200 appearances in the NRL for the Raiders, Dragons and Bulldogs. He will join Warrington the Super League from next season.

Vaughan could play in his third World Cup for Italy this autumn.

9. Joey Tramontana

Joey Tramontana Italy PA

Tramontana has won four caps for Italy since making his international debut in 2016. He is a real livewire out of dummy half with a good rugby brain.

The 25-year-old is currently playing for the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles in the New South Wales Cup. Tramontana is one to keep an eye for at the World Cup, for sure.

10. Daniel Alvaro

Daniel Alvaro Toulouse Olympique SWpix
Photo: Manuel Blondeau/SWpix

Alvaro is another one of the more high-profile players in the Italy squad. He has made more than 100 appearances in the NRL for the Eels, Warriors (loan) and Dragons.

The 29-year-old joined Super League side Toulouse midway through this season. He played in all three of Italy’s matches in the last World Cup.

Alvaro is of Italian heritage through his grandfather who was born and raised in Calabria.

11. Trent Loiero

Trent Loiero Melbourne Storm PA

Loiero is regarded as one of the best young forwards in the world. He has made 20 appearances for NRL giants Melbourne Storm despite only being 21.

The back-rower has yet to represent his Italian roots but could do so at the World Cup.

12. Jack Johns

Jack Johns Newcastle Knights PA

Jack Johns has won one cap for Italy so far, which came in the 2017 World Cup – three years before his NRL debut!

The 24-year-old made two appearances for South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2020 before moving to Newcastle Knights, where he has since played eight games.

It would be a nice story for the Johns family to see Cooper and Jack represent their Italian heritage at the World Cup.

13. Nathan Brown

Nathan Brown Italy PA

Brown represented his Italian heritage at the 2017 World Cup, playing in all three of their games.

The 29-year-old will be one of the most experienced players in the Azzurri team this year, having made more than 130 appearances in the NRL for the Tigers, Rabbitohs and Eels.

Brown represented his birth nation Australia at the Nines World Cup in 2019 – but he could be set for a switch back to his Italian roots this autumn.


14. Dean Parata

Dean Parata Featherstone SWpix
Photo: Manuel Blondeau/SWpix

The 30-year-old hooker will add plenty of experience to Leo Epifania’s side this autumn and will be playing in his third World Cup for Italy.

Parata has made more than 100 appearances in the RFL ranks, having played for Barrow, Toulouse, Featherstone and now London Broncos. He has been one of the best hookers in the Championship this season.

15. Ryan King

Ryan King Whitehaven SWpix
Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

King has proven to be an excellent overseas signing for Whitehaven in the Championship, scoring 15 tries in 31 games.

The versatile forward played three games for Italy in 2019 to help them qualify for the World Cup.

16. Anton Iaria

Anton Iaria Barrow Raiders
Photo: Barrow Raiders

Iaria has told Love Rugby League that it would be a ‘dream come true’ if he got to represent his Italian heritage at this year’s World Cup.

The 26-year-old was born and raised in Australia but is of Italian descent through his grandparents. He has already won four caps for Italy.

Iaria has made a big impression in the Championship since joining Barrow from NRL side Penrith Panthers.

17. Alec Susino

The 27-year-old is currently playing for Penrith Panthers in the New South Wales Cup, making 10 appearances this season.

He has previously spent time in the Championship with Featherstone and Barrow. Susino has already made his Italy debut and will be hoping to play in his first World Cup this autumn.

Thanks to He Can Play For for their collaboration, you can follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

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