Castleford Tigers v Hull KR: Late bloomer Mantellato braced for the roar of The Jungle

Rovers' Josh Mantellato
Rovers' Josh Mantellato
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THERE was a time when Josh Mantellato was just a peripheral NRL player and arguably best known for being the man who kicked Italy to a shock win over England.

Now, though, almost two years after his famous drop goal defeated Steve McNamara’s side in the build-up to the 2013 World Cup, the rangy Australian is becoming far more familiar and with good reason.

He has enjoyed a dream start to life with Hull KR where he has quickly immersed himself this season after leaving Newcastle Knights for a three-year deal in East Yorkshire.

Heading into this weekend’s round 10, Mantellato was the early leader in both the Super League’s top goalscorer and points-scorer charts with 35 and 82 respectively – prior to Tom Lineham’s hat-trick last night – having also added three tries for the Robins.

He has registered points in the club’s opening nine matches of 2015 and it is his prolific ability and accuracy that has partly led to their surprise surge up the table to fourth.

Hull KR head to Castleford Tigers this evening looking for a fourth successive win having lost just one of their last five games.

For the player, too, he is crucially getting a regular run of first-team games, which is clearly benefiting him.

A late starter to first-grade in Australia, he did not sign for Newcastle until 2012, making his try-scoring NRL debut the following year against South Sydney Rabbitohs at the ripe old age of 26 and while still working as a personal trainer.

However, the winger – whose six-foot five-inch frame aids his frighteningly long reach with the boot – still spent much of his time there in the second-tier New South Wales Cup where he remained a regular scorer.

“I am loving it over here,” Mantellato told The Yorkshire Post.

“The players are great, the staff as well, while the fans turn up every home game and are so loud and vocal. It is an unreal feeling hearing them. This Easter spell is a tough period with all the games (three in nine days) but we’re coming off the back of three straight wins now.

“We’ve looked at Cas this week to assess what we need to do against them.

“They had a good win over at Warrington on Easter Monday so it is going to be hard over there at The Jungle which I hear is a pretty ruthless place.

“But it should be another good game.”

It is so far so good this holiday period for Chris Chester’s side who completed an Easter double for the first time since being promoted to Super League in 2006.

An impressive 20-6 success at Hull FC was augmented by a similarly noteworthy 20-16 defeat of in-form Huddersfield Giants on Monday.

Rovers have been praised for their attacking brilliance this season, Australians Terry Campese and Albert Kelly giving Chester’s side real creativity at half-back having arrived, like Mantellato, from the NRL over the winter.

But against Huddersfield it was the team’s doughty nature and resilience that suggested they could be genuine contenders for a top- six berth.

Having missed out on the play-offs last season, that would mark real progress for the club and Mantellato admitted: “We made a point of it that we’d never backed up after a derby win so it was a bit of a challenge for us.

“Huddersfield are a big, strong side and it was tough out there at times but we won ugly which is a good thing I guess.

“Two points is two points. We’ll take it.

“It’s a very important period now. If you can jag these wins out, no matter how ugly they are, they’re very crucial at the end of the season.”

Castleford, Challenge Cup finalists and surprise top-four finishers themselves last season, are currently eighth but, given the current competitive nature 
of Super League, will claim Rovers’ fourth spot with any victory.

With the sides so evenly balanced, any victory at Wheldon Road – and Hull KR have not won there since February 2010 – could come down to goal-kicking.

Unusually, Mantellato was slightly off on Monday when he converted just one of his side’s four tries although his late penalty did see off any thought of a Giants comeback.

“With two minutes to go, stretching us out to eight points at that stage, that penalty pretty much sealed it I guess,” said the player, whose Italian grandparents emigrated to Australia from the town Pordenone in the 1960s.

“But it would have been a lot more than four points in the end if I’d had my boots on.

“It was just one of those days, I think. I kicked really well against Hull FC before so I’m not too sure what happened. Maybe it was just a bit of fatigue.”

But on the subject of kicks, what of that one-pointer for Italy - the second lowest ranked team in the World Cup - with just 90 seconds to go on that rainy October afternoon in Salford.

“It was my first and only field goal so I was pretty stoked with that,” he recalled, looking back at his adopted country’s shock 15-14 triumph.

“I don’t really get sick of people talking about it but it is great to now come over here and put my worth into this club.

“Hopefully that’ll keep continuing for this year and the next two as well.”