Paul Vaughan still teases his St George Illawarra team-mate Gareth Widdop about the time Italy beat England and believes the Azzuri are capable of causing more upsets at this year’s Rugby League World Cup.
Vaughan, who is now being spoken of as a State of Origin contender after joining the Dragons from Canberra this season, was a member of the Italian side which humbled England at Salford on the eve of the 2013 World Cup.
“It was a trial match against England just before the World Cup and we won 15-14. I still tell Gaz about that today,” Vaughan said. “England had a good team so it was great for us to get that win over them.”
The pair now playing key roles in St George Illawarra’s impressive start to the NRL season, with Widdop overcoming a car crash on Sunday to lead the Dragons to a 26-12 win over the Warriors and Vaughan earning man-of-the-match honours for his performance up front.
After carrying the ball 186 metres from 16 runs, scoring a try and making 38 tackles against the Warriors, Vaughan is firming as a bolter for NSW selection but the 25-year-old prop played down his Origin prospects.
If selected for the Blues it would be a remarkable turnaround for a player told last year that he was not part of Raiders coach Ricky Stuart’s long term plans and should look for a new club.
“I think I am a little bit far away from that yet,” Vaughan said of Origin. “I had a couple of good seasons with the Raiders but my progress got halted there last season so I came to Saints needing to make a fresh start and I just want to keep playing good footy.
“I don’t think I have played my best footy yet and that is one of the first things I told Mary [Dragons coach Paul McGregor] when I signed to the club. I said to him that I have got a lot of potential I haven’t tapped into yet.”
If Vaughan was chosen for Origin he would still be eligible to represent Italy in the World Cup and is keen to play under the coaching of former Azzuri team-mates Cameron Ciraldo and Anthony Minichiello.
“I made my NRL debut in 2013 and played for Italy in the World Cup at the back end of the year. It was a great experience for me and I learned a lot from the boys who were playing,” said Vaughan, who has an Italian-born grandmother.
“There is a great group of boys there and this year the coaching staff is really strong. I am sure there are a lot of good players out there with Italian backgrounds so Italy is going to field a pretty strong team in the World Cup.”
With players likely to represent nine of the 14 competing nations, the World Cup is set to be an ongoing topic of discussion in the St George Illawarra camp this season.
Among them are Tariq Sims (Fiji), Nene McDonald (Papua New Guinea), Euan Aitlken (Scotland), Tim Lafai (Samoa), Siliva Havili (Tonga), Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell (Australia), Jason Nightingale (New Zealand) and Widdop (England).
Widdop, the England five-eighth, has also been in top form for the Dragons this season and became the joint venture’s third highest point scorer after scoring a try and kicking five goals in Sunday night’s defeat of the Warriors.
Remarkably, Widdop had been involved in a car accident near Kogarah Oval before the game and suffered a leg injury which team-mates said had caused him some discomfort while playing.
The air bags exploded and Widdop, who was the only occupant, had to be helped from the car.
He received a lift to the ground with McGregor, who was driving past the accident and noticed Widdop on the side of the road.
“His car was written off, so to put that aside and perform like that is a credit to the skipper,” McGregor said.
Widdop shrugged off the incident, saying “I won’t see that car again, but Sims revealed the 28-year-old had injured his leg.
“He was actually meant to come to the ground with me before he brushed me and I still don’t know why, so I rocked up expecting him here and found out he was in a pretty bad crash,” Sims told nrl.com
“He actually did really well … he was telling me that his leg was hurting from it so to turn around and put a performance in like that to focus on what he needed to do and steer the team around was pretty special.”
This article first appeared on RLWC2017.com