Jake Maizen scored the first hat-trick of the Rugby League World Cup as Italy, playing in their first international match for three years, produced a magnificent team display to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages with victory against Scotland.
Italy’s last fixture was a qualifier for this very tournament in November 2019, with the Covid-19 pandemic affecting the ability of Leo Epifania’s side to play regularly. On this display, though, the Azzurri will be hopeful of becoming a regular presence in European rugby league.
Their World Cup squad comprises predominantly players of Italian heritage from the lower leagues of the English and Australian game, with a sprinkling of call-ups from the local Italian scene. However, while Maizen crossed for three superb tries, their one real star was their captain, Nathan Brown.
Brown, who featured for Parramatta in an National Rugby League Grand Final this month, qualifies for Italy courtesy of his mother. He has spoken effusively about his pride at representing the Azzurri and produced an imperious captain’s display here as Italy proved to be far too strong for Scotland.
The result means that, with both sides now facing games against Australia and Fiji, Scotland’s hopes of qualifying from Group B are all but over. Italy, meanwhile, will eye their meeting with Fiji next Saturday as the game which could decide who finishes second behind the Kangaroos.
Italy deservedly led 12-0 at half-time. They broke the deadlock with Luke Polselli’s try, before a burst from dummy-half by Dean Parata doubled their lead. It then took them just four minutes after the restart to extend that advantage further, as Maizen claimed his first of the afternoon.
Maizen added his second five minutes later after a fine piece of vision from Parata to send the winger over in the corner, before the Sunshine Coast Falcons man completed his hat-trick in the final moments with a length-of-the-field break as Scotland pushed for points.
Nathan Graham’s side did avoid the ignominy of being nilled when Halifax’s Lachlan Walmsley crossed, but it was mere consolation for the Bravehearts, who now have to win their last two group games to qualify.
The game was the second of the opening weekend to be played in Newcastle, with this contest at Kingston Park 24 hours after the opener between England and Samoa at St James’ Park, where the opening ceremony was marred by disruption after a power outage cut short the pre-match entertainment.
The Guardian understands the issue was caused by the equipment brought in by an events company commissioned by the tournament organisers, rather than the public address system inside St James’ Park itself, which remained in full working order.