Mason Lino is the somewhat forgotten man waiting behind arguably the NRL’s best halves pairing. At 23 years of age he’s played three first-grade games and represented Samoa on the international stage. We go 1-on-1 with the talented playmaker to talk all things footy.
KLC: The Intrust Super Premiership side are undefeated at the top of the ladder as we write this, obviously you’re happy with that, but how about your own form and development so far this year?
ML: I guess I am [happy with it], slowly I’m getting there, I am still not where I want to be, but I have just got to keep working hard to try and push for a spot in first grade. Obviously the two guys up there right now are pretty world class, so it’s just about keeping on working on the little things I can do to get better and hopefully I get a shot soon.
Where do you think you have improved most since last year?
I think I am reading the defence a little bit more and my kicking game has improved a bit. ‘Foz’ (Kieran Foran) has helped with that a bit, I have chats with him now and then at training about what sort of lines I can run, because if you watch the way Foz runs it’s real direct down the short side. It’s about learning to pick the opportunities when to run too.
And the body? Is your shoulder you damaged in the U-20 Grand Final back in 2014 still giving you any trouble?
Yeah the shoulder is fine now, it’s just the usual little niggles you get during a season, but the shoulder has been real good. I think it was good for me to get my first full pre-season done, which I hadn’t done for like three years previously, and I guess that’s why I am feeling the benefits now.
Run us through the injuries and operations you have had to have since the start of 2015.
It was one full reconstruction on the shoulder, so that was six months on the sideline and I started a bit late and had to miss the pre-season heading into 2015. The following season I had to get surgery on my ankle, so again no pre-season heading into 2016. It has been a slow start for me the last few years so it was good to do a full one.
And have you had to try and put some weight on to protect those injuries a bit better?
Yeah definitely, especially on the right shoulder which is the one I had the op on. I have actually put a bit of weight on, surprisingly. I am at 90 kilos right now I think, I don’t know if that’s big but it is for me, I am a couple of kgs heavier which is good, I can handle the contact in the collisions a bit better.
It makes a difference for sure. I do extras with ‘Siana’ (Manu Vatuvei) and all that, and and I am sure if I can tackle Siana I can tackle most boys.
At the end of 2014 you had a deal ready to head over and play in France with your Junior Warriors teammate Kouma Samson. That all fell through after you injured your shoulder and at the time looked bad for you, but do you look back on that now as a blessing in disguise?
Yeah I think that was a bit of a silver lining because the following year I got an NRL debut. I was happy for Kouma, he went over and said he loved it, so I guess I missed out on a life experience and having an OE, but I am thankful I stayed behind.
You played three games that year in 2015, but haven’t made the NRL squad since, has that been hard to stomach?
Yeah a bit to be honest. Most of that is probably on me and how I prepared. Obviously having all these injuries in the pre-season and stuff, I kind of didn’t put myself in a good position to get a shot in the last few years. For myself this is probably the year I think I can get a shot. I am more prepared this year, but it depends how everything pans out.
The future, you’re on a long list of off-contract players at the Warriors. Are you any closer to getting that sorted?
I just leave it to my manager for that sort of thing. I am just trying to string a few games together and seeing how things pan out in the next month or two. I am pretty much open to anything if it presents itself, obviously I need to go to a team where I can benefit, but at the moment I just have to see what my manager has got for me and hope he is doing some good stuff in the background.
Finally, you have represented Samoa at international level, tell us a bit about where your Samoan heritage comes from.
Both parents, they are both Samoan-Chinese, they have both got Chinese heritage somewhere along the line. Me and my mum were born in Samoa, my dad and little sisters were born in New Zealand.I moved over here when I was about five. I speak a little bit here and there, just small talk between the boys in Samoan, but I am not fluent.
Hopefully I get a shot for Samoa at the end of the year (Rugby league World Cup), it would be pretty cool representing my birth country. I got the opportunity last year and loved every moment. Hopefully I get a crack.
(Main photo: photosport.nz).