When news happens, text CHRON and your photos or videos to 80360. Or contact us by email & phone.
McNamara expects serious Italy test
England coach Steve McNamara will be looking to the Italians to provide his team with a serious hit-out in Saturday's friendly at the Salford City Stadium.
The match has been arranged to enable McNamara to fine-tune his preparations for next Saturday's opening World Cup showdown with Australia at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
But McNamara is also keen to acknowledge the efforts of the Azzurri - and in particular his old friend Carlo Napolitano - in their attempts to develop rugby league in Italy.
"We explored all different options but, once they were keen, it was for me a logical choice," McNamara said.
"We wanted a hit-out to test us and I think Italy will test us.
"They've got very good players, players who have won an NRL Grand Final, and it's a country that is really developing.
"We have a responsibility to help a developing nation. They've got some real potential with that sport.
"Rugby union has done really well and started to progress and, if we can help that, it will help us as well."
Saturday's match will help get the Italians up to speed ahead of their World Cup opener against Wales, which will follow England's clash with the Kangaroos.
The game at Barton has special significance for Napolitano, who was born and bred in Salford and made three Super League appearances for the Reds in 2000 under Steve McCormack, who ironically is coaching Italy's group C rivals Scotland in the World Cup.
Napolitano, who grew up with and remains a close friend of England international Adrian Morley, has been the driving force behind the development of rugby league in Italy over the last 14 years.
They achieved a major breakthrough two years ago by winning the European qualifying competition and Napolitano sees the fixture with England as a yardstick to measure how far they have come.
"Steve McNamara and I are pretty good friends and we said it would be a momentous occasion and it will give us a benchmark for where we're at," Napolitano said.
Napolitano, who flew into England with his squad on Wednesday evening, has little time to bring together a squad of players assembled from four different countries but he does not anticipate that being a problem.
"We've got a massive range, from a local leaguer from Italy who's played five games of rugby league in his life to one that's just captained a side to an NRL premiership," he said.
"Our motto has always been 'one family' and one of our strengths is the way we do it. We've done it over many years now. We know how to do it on a quick basis and we've been quite successful with it.
"I don't see it as a major issue for us. It's just about making sure everyone buys into the game plan and I think we've got that.
"Everything is looking really tight. I suppose we will only know when we start playing England.
"The result is not a major concern for me. It's a matter of seeing how we actually perform, then we can take the benefits and negatives and start preparing for Wales.
"I've got one eye on Wales at the moment but that's all. We've been having a look at some footage and the good thing is that we've got Paul Broadbent, who is one of my assistant coaches who is quite familiar with everyone."
Two of McNamara's England squad, Tom Burgess and Zak Hardaker, will be playing in the curtain-raiser at Salford for England Knights against Samoa, who will be using the match to prepare for their opening World Cup game against holders New Zealand.
The Samoans, coached by former Salford boss Matt Parish, are expected to include Wigan second rower Harrison Hansen and St Helens centre or back rower Sia Soliola but Knights coach Kieron Purtill is confident his young charges will rise to the challenge.
"We've had a great period of preparation and the boys are really fired up for this game," said Purtill.
"The physical challenge is going to be massive for us because Samoa are a big team and technically we know we will have to be at our best against opponents who are preparing for the World Cup."