Josh Mantellato discusses his time with Hull KR, representing his Italian heritage and how injuries have forced him to hang up the boots in Life after League…
Mantellato made his professional debut for Newcastle Knights in 2013 against the South Sydney Rabbitohs, and later joined Hull KR on a three-year deal in 2015.
The Italy international went on to make 49 appearances for the Robins, enjoying the highs of reaching the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, to the lows of the defeat in the Million Pound Game to Salford, while he kicked all three goals on offer in the match that saw Gareth O’Brien slot the drop-goal winning kick that saw them relegated to the Championship.
Mantellato returned to Australia following his stint at Craven Park, and enjoyed life in both the semi-professional and the amateur game before being forced to retire.
“I loved my time at Hull KR,” he told Love Rugby League.
“It was the most memorable couple of years of my life. I met so many amazing people and characters and got to experience so many great things on and off the pitch. I loved playing at Craven Park and hearing the east stand roar with every play. I wish it ended differently but I guess we don’t all get the happy ending we feel we deserve but that’s footy.
“After playing pro rugby league I came back to Australia to play semi-pro with Sydney Roosters’ feeder club Wyong Roos. After two seasons with them the partnership between both clubs split and I went back to just playing local amateur club footy with Wyong still.
“This year I moved to the Entrance Tigers for a change but my season and career was cut short as I fractured my throat and the specialist insisted, given it’s my second major injury to my throat, to finally hang up the boots.”
Mantellato won 10 caps for Italy on the international scene, and had his first taste of British soil in the 2013 World Cup, where he played at the then-Millennium Stadium for the opening day against Wales, scoring a try and kicking four goals.
He went on to feature against Tonga and Scotland in the tournament, partnering now-Australia number one James Tedesco on the right edge.
Four years later, the winger represented Italy again Down Under at the 2017 World Cup.
“It was a huge honour to represent Italy at the Rugby League World Cup,” he said.
“I am half Italian and never thought I’d get the opportunity to participate in something so big like a World Cup.
“To play for that side of my family is something I’ll never forget and whenever I get together with my uncles and cousins they love asking me about my experiences in playing in those tournaments. Playing in front of 40,000 fans on the opening night in 2013 was an amazing experience.”
Last week, Australia and New Zealand announced their withdrawal for the 2021 World Cup, but Mantellato believes the international scene is the right way to promote the sport.
“The international game is vital for the growth of the game, especially in the UK,” he added.
“I felt the 2013 Rugby League World Cup was a successful one from the perspective of players and fans. Games were sold out, the players loved the experience and I felt that it was a good opportunity for international rugby league to kickstart its growth into other markets.
“Unfortunately, I feel it’s gone backwards and the game is suffering on an international level. Super League and NRL seasons are too long and this restricts the opportunities for more international tournaments and games at end of year.”