He grabbed a slice of history last year but Rotorua kayaker Zack Mutton is hoping for the whole cake this time around.

The 18-year-old Okere Falls paddler heads into this week's World Junior Canoe Slalom championships in Italy hungry to better his eighth-place in the K1 in 2017, which equalled the best-ever finish for a New Zealander at that level.

Mutton is one of the leading hopes in the 16-strong New Zealand team, which includes his younger sister River, spurred on with the knowledge this is his last year in the under-18 division.

"I really want that title of junior world champion so I'm definitely feeling some pressure, but there are so many good juniors this year and they're all going to be pushing for the title.

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"Last year's result gave me a heap of confidence and also some pretty valuable knowledge and experience but now the trick is to apply it," Mutton said.

Rotorua kayaker Zack Mutton in action. Photo/Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Rotorua kayaker Zack Mutton in action. Photo/Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

Mutton's raw time in the final last year would have been good enough for bronze but two penalty touches dropped him back to eighth, the same placing Callum Gilbert achieved in 2014.

Gilbert will line up in the under-23 division this week in one of the strongest New Zealand line ups ever unveiled at that level, alongside Finn Butcher and Jack Dangen. Olympian Mike Dawson remains the only other Kiwi to make the final at the championships, finishing 10th in 2004.

Just four of the top-10 from last year - Mutton, Joshua Joseph (USA) and Czech pair Jan Barta and Tomas Zima - are still in the under-18 division, with Mutton joined by fellow Kiwis Damian Torwick and 15-year-old George Snook, who recently won an under-16 European Canoe Association title.

Mutton is a big fan of the Ivrea course, which has had a disrupted build-up due to floods and stormy weather in Italy.

"There are some quite big stoppers and drops for a slalom course that catch you out if you're not on line but it's suited to my style of paddling, for sure. It still shows me who's boss every now and then with a few rolls."

While a number of the New Zealand under-23 team have been competing on the World Cup circuit in Europe, four of the team - Charlie Bell, Lotte Rayner, River Mutton and Dangen - will be competing in their first world championships.

For many of the team, it is a chance to gain invaluable experience at this level, with New Zealand hosting the 2021 junior and under-23 world championships at the Vector Wero Whitewater centre in Auckland.

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The lineup in the under-23 division this week, meanwhile, is truly world-class, with two-time under-23 world champion Jakub Grigar and double European champion Kimberley Woods leading an impressive lineup.

Slovakian Grigar, who made his Olympic debut in Rio in 2016, will be aiming for a third consecutive K1 title but will face plenty of stiff competition.

Austria's 2017 K1 junior world champion, Felix Oschmautz, Great Britain's Bradley Forbes-Cryans and Australia's Daniel Watkins are regular strong performers in senior World Cup competitions.

The women's K1 and C1 fields will benefit from the absence of Australia's Jessica Fox and Great Britain's Mallory Franklin. Fox, in particular, has dominated the age competitions for several years before turning 24 this year.

Woods has won two senior European C1 titles but is yet to win a U23 or junior world title. The 22-year-old is one of several women who will be contesting both the K1 and the C1 in Ivrea.

Others expected to push for medals include Austria's Nadine Weratschnig, Brazil's Ana Satila, and the younger of the Fox sisters, Noemie.

Fellow Czech, Lukas Rohan, and Frenchman Cedric Joly head a strong men's U23 C1 field. Rohan and Joly, together with Australia's Watkins, have already shown good form at the opening World Cup events.

The best of the local contenders is likely to be Raffaello Ivaldi, a world cup medallist who is very familiar with the Ivrea course.

The championships began in Ivrea on Tuesday night (NZ time) with teams racing and run through until Sunday.