|Italian XIII 34 - 10 Malta XIII|
By STEVE MASCORD for Rugbyleague.com
Marconi Stadium, Sydney
NEWCASTLE forward Cameron Ciraldo made a comeback from the most sickening injury of the NRL season in this Mediterranean Cup opener between two sides made up of Australian based players of Italian and Maltese origin.
The fixture had added spice when one of Ciraldo's Italian team-mates walked out of the stadium with 20 minutes to go in the game agagainst the Maltese XIII because he had not been used.
Ciraldo turned the stomachs of Australian television viewers shortly after the start of the domestic rugby league season when his foot was turned at right angles to the rest of his leg in a tackle, ostensibly ruling him out until 2010.
But he will at least go into next season with some confidence after making an early return for the Italian selection in it's 34-10 win over the Maltese team in the Mediterranean Shield. He'll also play in next week's final.
But by the time Ciraldo got his late spell from coach David Penna at Marconi Stadium, benchman Nick Vescio had already handed in his jersey and stormed back to his car after remaining on the bench.
Supported by his mother, he refused to be coaxed back to the bench by officials.
"It's very disappointing", said David Penna, the Manly under 20s coach.
"You make the team, there's kids that don't and because you don't get on, you leave with 20 minutes to go. Anyway, that's happened.''
Ciraldo said: "I heard that happened. I don't know what to say, I don't know what the circumstances were but I was proud to play.''
He said because of his injury, he had never been so nervous before a game as he was on Saturday. "I've been looking forward to a game since round two - it's a pretty long time.
"I was really proud to play, really privileged. Before the game I was sh****ng myself but after the first five minutes i was OK. I'm looking forward to the final.''
The Maltese XIII, with Penrith fullback Jarrod Sammut their big name, led 10-0 after 18 minutes and it could have been more.
But the Italian sides tough forward pack eventually got on top and Wests Tigers half Jay Florimo - son of former Kangaroo Greg - made the most of the momentum. They scored four unanswered tries afrer leading 14-10 at the break.
Malta coach Joe Grima said: "It was just poor discipline. The penalty count in the first half was 17-3 -it finished 13-4, 13-5.
"We went away from our game structure. The Italians are a very young side, most are under 20s, so they had more energy at the back end of each half.''
Italy will field two sides next Saturday - one in the Mediterranean Shield final against Greece in Sydney , the other in the European Nations Cup against Scotland in Padua.
The Maltese play the Portugese for the Mediterranean Shield plate next Saturday.
Italian XIII 34 (Jay Florimo, Daniel Sonsone, Ben Falcone, Daniel Galati, Joseph Miletto, Ray Nasso, Dom Brunetto tries; Rhys Lanarduzzo 3 goals) bt Malta XIII 10 (Ian Catania, Brendan Russell tries: Jarrod Sammut goal) at Marconi Stadium, Sydney. Referee: Phil Henderson (Australia).
Crowd: 800 est.