By Jason Costigan
Maltese officials have been forced to appoint a caretaker coach for tonight’s Rugby League international against Montenegro after Roderick Attard had to forgo the trip to the Adriatic.
It’s understood a raft of obligations including work commitments left Attard with no choice but to stay behind, meaning Anthony Micallef is filling in for the first of four end-of-year internationals across two continents and three countries.
Micallef has opted for Australian-based Jayden Azzopardi at stand-off, putting him alongside English-based Karl Cassar in the halves as Malta looks to back up last year’s 66-6 thrashing of Montenegro.
That game, for the inaugural Medieval Shield, was Montenegro’s first international and despite the newcomers having the advantage of playing at home this time, they face an even bigger challenge, taking the field without inspirational halfback Mitar Bošković.
The man who has played a central role in developing the game in Montenegro is currently overseas with his fiancé but Azzopardi said after seeing video footage of his opponents, they should not be taken lightly.
“I think they’re a half decent squad. They’ve got a lot of potential and opportunity around the park,” Azzopardi said at training on his first visit to Malta before the Knights departed for Tivat.
Azzopardi, who plays at the amateur level for Sydney club Mascot, is a graduate of Malta’s heritage programme for juniors Down Under.
He believes even with the unavailability of Malta’s first-choice playmaker, former NRL and Super League star Jarrod Sammut, the Knights are capable of racking up another large scoreline against the Montenegrins.
“We’ve got far more capacity across the squad if we all gel together to do the job quite convincingly but with that being said, I think every squad can’t be taken for granted,” Azzopardi said.
“I think they’re going to be aggressive, they’re going to be strong, but I think we’ve got the manpower to match them.”
Montenegro, playing only their third international, is ranked 38th in the world whilst the Maltese, who’ve been playing now for almost two decades, have slipped to 19th after cracking the top 10 last year before the World Cup.
After tonight’s game, the Knights are back in Malta next weekend to entertain Bulgaria before heading to Australia for internationals against Chile and the Philippines.
The latter fixture in Sydney is part of a ‘double-header’ with the Maltese women’s team, the Dames, to play their Filipino counterparts.
Tonight’s game kicks off at 7.30pm CEST and will be broadcast in Montenegro on MNE Sport TV.
MALTA: Mark Camilleri; Jean Scholey; Kyle Gauci; Reece Dimech; Aidan Demicoli; Jayden Azzopardi; Karl Cassar; Jean-Pierre Zarb; Robin Cutajar; Josh Cassar; William Watts; Mark Robertson; Kaine Dimech; Scott Beerman; Luke Muso; Nicky Vella; Peter Debono; Noah Azzopardi.
MONTENEGRO: Marko Novaković; Marko Fatić; Boban Banjević; Burim Brahimi; Miloš Dašić; Miloš Kućančanin; Srdjan Popović; Igor Adzaip; Ilija Ivanović; Redzep Baljaj; Elvis Cenaj; Goran Novaković; Bogdan Raičević; Bojan Miždalo; Andrija Dakić; Stevan Radonjić; Aleksandar Mećikukić; Tvrtko Dumančić.
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