By Chris Kennedy (NRL.com)
Star Dragons recruit Paul Vaughan is disappointed he couldn't take part in Italy's most recent World Cup qualifiers but says he'd be open to a return to Azzuri colours for the main event in Australia and New Zealand at the end of 2017.
Speaking to NRL.com after sweating it out in a tortuous pre-season workout at his new club's Wollongong training base, Vaughan was relishing the chance to prove himself at a new club after being pushed to the outer in a star-studded Raiders pack towards the end of 2016.
Speaking of his move from the nation's capital to the Gong, the Country Origin regular said he had recovered from the shock of being demoted to Raiders feeder club Mounties late in the 2016 season.
"I only played about two or three games for Mounties then I was playing grade again - it was just initially that shock that I did play reserve grade but I knew I was probably better off looking somewhere else for a better opportunity," Vaughan said.
"I came up and had a meeting with 'Mary' (coach Paul McGregor) and a couple of the other fellas in the off season so I got to see the club and have a bit of a look around.
"I'm really happy to be here, the facilities are really good, the boys are even better.
"It's just important for me to rip into the pre-season, get myself into the best shape I can and make a good impression come trials.
"It's a really good roster and I think we can do some pretty special things the next few years."
One of the by-products of Vaughan's change of clubs was that he was forced to sit out Italy's qualifiers for the 2017 World Cup.
"I was actually asked to play in the qualifying games but I declined. I had to get this contract with Saints settled first and that was my main priority," Vaughan said.
"The boys beat Russia 76-0 [to book their place in the tournament] so I don't think they needed my help too much! It's good to have the boys in the World Cup and I wish them all the best.
"If I get that chance to represent the boys again I definitely would."
Vaughan added despite his disappointment at not being able to take part, it had not really been a tough decision.
"I couldn't go over there without a contract because if anything happened I wouldn't have been [covered] but I had to put all my effort into getting this contract over the line and that was my priority," he said.
If Vaughan does end up representing the Azzuri in their second straight World Cup, it would see him return to Canberra for a match against Fiji on November 10 alongside his former Raiders captain Terry Campese.
"It will be good for 'Campo' actually; he didn't really get a farewell for the Raiders but he's got that last game in Canberra for Italy so he'll be pretty stoked with that," Vaughan said.
"I might even get a chance to go down if I'm not playing to have a look [but] I'll definitely put my hand up if they want me to play."
Vaughan's signature with the Dragons drew praise from one of his new clubmates – Country Origin teammate Jack De Belin.
"He's a legend mate, he's a top bloke and he's someone you want around the club, he's a great clubman and brings a lot of positivity as a footballer," De Belin told NRL.com.
"He's a big body and I think his game will really be suited at the club here.
"He's mobile, he's a really good all-round player.
"We've seen what he's capable of at Canberra.
"He probably didn't get the opportunities he deserved but it's a great signing by the club and hopefully he can perform down here.
"I played a lot against him in 20s then obviously played with him in Country so I know what he's capable of and you can't take him lightly when you play against him.
"Once I heard that we signed him I was stoked that he'd be down here at the club."