The Stacey Jones Call that Kept Lino at Warriors
Mason Lino knows he's headed back to Intrust Super Premiership as soon as Shaun Johnson gets the all-clear to return from a niggling groin injury.
The stand-in halfback is just thankful that a call to the greatest Kiwi No.7 of them all ensured it's not French reggies where he is plying his trade.
Lino put his first-grade wares on show in the Warriors' 30-6 upset of a heavyweight Roosters outfit, finishing with a lazy 18 points, his maiden try and most importantly his first NRL win in 10 attempts.
The 24-year-old Samoan international only learned of his call-up when Johnson was scratched after last Friday's captain's run, but didn't miss a beat as he and Blake Green steered the Warriors to a fourth straight win to start their 2018 Telstra Premiership campaign.
But four years ago the young playmaker was set to join French side AS Carcassonne on a two-year deal, having been told there was no room for him at the Warriors when he finished in their vaunted 20s system.
What was meant to be his last game for the club saw him play through a partially dislocated shoulder in a 34-32 Holden Cup grand final win over Brisbane.
That injury meant he failed his medical with the French outfit, whose competition features the Catalans Dragons reserve grade side, and his footballing career at a crossroads.
Until he called Warriors and New Zealand rugby league royalty Stacey Jones.
"I did my shoulder in that 20s grand final and because of that I had no contract, not much going on at all," Lino told NRL.com after towelling up the Roosters last Saturday.
"I went to Stacey (Jones), he was the (NSW) Cup coach at the time, I told him the situation and he was good about it.
"He said 'don't worry, don't stress', and he gave me a part-time deal, it was a small deal back then.
"It was the silver lining to it all, that injury. If I'd gone to France I don't know that I'd be in this situation now."
That situation sees him contracted until the end of 2019 with his junior club, and working with his childhood hero Jones, who doubles as Stephen Kearney's right-hand man, attack coach and playmaking soundboard.
"I remember every game he played, the Warriors games on TV3 in New Zealand, I never missed them," Lino says.
"Stacey's been massive in helping my development and he still is, I'm still learning a lot from him and I'm just trying to keep going and keep working hard."
Lino has been named on an extended bench for this Saturday's game against Johnathan Thurston's Cowboys at Mt Smart Stadium, with Johnson slated to reclaim his No.7 jersey.
In all likelihood he will return to the Intrust Super Cup, and keep plugging away at the NRL career that has taken a longer route than most, though at least without a French detour.
"I'm just trying to put my best foot forward, doesn't matter what grade it's in," Lino says.
"The best thing about us, or my favourite thing with me, Shauny and Greeny is we just want to win, that's the goal. Whoever's playing, it doesn't matter, we support each other and there's a good bond there.
I understand that Shaun's got that position, I'm just filling in when needed at the moment. I'll just keep putting my best foot forward and see what happens."