Fri 08 June
Italy enters the 2012-13 European Shield on Saturday, in an eagerly anticipated match at the Makis Stadium, Belgrade against Serbia.
The two countries have met twice before with Italy coming out on top on both occasions, in the 2009 European Cup and last year’s RLWC2013 qualifier, although the Serbs were left feeling hard done by.
In Wales, in the European Cup ranking play-off, the Serbians felt aggrieved about alleged improprieties in the Italian squad, while last year, in the run up to Italy’s visit to Serbia, tensions between the Federazione Italiana Rugby League and the Serbian Rugby League Federation almost reached breaking point.
The proud nations have never met in the Shield though – a competition that each has won twice and neither has entered without taking the silverware. Added to the mix, the Serbians are desperate for a victory after their shock one point defeat to Germany in May, while the visitors, coached by Paul Broadbent, are beginning their RLWC2013 preparations.
“Although the time together has been short it’s gone very well, with the energy and enthusiasm shining through,” said Broadbent, the former Great Britain front rower. “These are exciting times in Italy with lots of new blood coming into the sport which will only add momentum and strength. It will also be good to see some of our non-domestic players that didn't get a lead role last year stepping into the leadership positions that have been handed to them.”
Accomplished Cavaillon half-back Remi Fontana is likely to be a key force and he is joined by three more French Elite players in a squad dominated by the Italian champions, XIII del Ducato from Piacenza. Brescia’s Fabrizio Ciaurro and Cedric Prizzon of Villefranche both played in the Azzurri’s RLWC2013 campaign while a late blow saw another of the qualification veterans, Bradford-based Jonathon Marcinczak, withdraw from the squad on Thursday following passport difficulties. He is replaced by Stefano Cardella.
“We are all buzzing about the challenge,” continued Broadbent. “We know that Serbia will be tough; they have a number of young players that have come through their system which speaks volumes for their structures there.”
His counterpart, Marko Jankovic, has made four changes to the 20-man squad chosen for the recent clash with Germany in Heidelberg. In comes Milan Cunijara who, along with his brother Ivan, fellow Dorcol Spider Dalibor Vukanovic and Serbian captain Zoran Pesic, faced Italy in 2009. Hemel’s former Manly product, aggressive prop Ilija Radan, joins the squad while Podbara’s Dario Milosavljevic is recalled for the first time since 2008.
Jankovic was quick to sum up the importance of the match: “We need to win this very important game and must use our home ground advantage and the support of the domestic crowd in what is sure to be a very hard and competitive match”. And a hot one. Forecasts predict the hottest day of the year so far, with the mercury poised to reach up to 35 degrees.
SERBIA 20-MAN SQUAD
Lazar Zivkovic, Milo¹ Zogoviæ (Car Lazar), Mirko Bo¾oviæ, Danilo Delic, Stefan Nedeljkoviæ, Stefan Nikoliæ, Stevan Stevanoviæ, Ivan ©u¹njara, Milan Susnjara, Nik¹a Unkoviæ, Dalibor Vukanoviæ (Doræol), Ilija Radan (Hemel Stag), Dario Milosavljevic (Podbara), Milo¹ Æaliæ, Vojislav Dediæ, Vladica Nikoliæ, Zlatko Pe¹iæ, Zoran Pe¹iæ (capt.), Velibor Sreækoviæ, Neboj¹a ®ivanoviæ (Red Star Belgrade)
ITALY 20-MAN SQUAD
Fabrizio Ciaurro (Brescia), Remi Fontana (Cavaillon), Ivan Barani, Giovanni Franchi, Octavian Ilinca, Santiago Monteagudo, Drake Muyodi, Davide Rancati, Andrea Sola, (Ducato Piacenza), Stefano Cardella, Rodrigo Marchesi, Christofer De Meyer, Gert Peens (XIII del Duomo Milan), Romain Pavoni (Entraigues XIII), Rhys Lenarduzzi (Lezignan Corbieres XIII), Mauro Pettenello, (Padova 555 RLFC), Luca Cerza (Parma RLFC), Cedric Prizzon (Villefranche de Rouergue)