Some wise words from a couple of former first grade halfbacks as Mason Lino stepped onto the field last week helped him to a strong return to the NRL arena.
The 23-year-old could have been forgiven for showing some early nerves against the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville, given it had been exactly 23 months since he last appeared at the top level, but instead he came out firing, threatening the line and looking at home in the No.7 jersey.
Lino said some sound advice from assistant coaches Stacey Jones and Andrew McFadden, who both enjoyed lengthy careers as halfbacks, helped him find the confidence to get straight into his work.
“I remember Cappy [McFadden] or Stace told me before the game ‘if you get the ball just run, get yourself into the game’ and I did that and it felt pretty good,” Lino said ahead of Friday night’s clash against the Cronulla Sharks at Mount Smart Stadium.
“It’s good having them there helping me with little parts of my game that I know I need to get better at, Cappy with my defence and Stace with my attacking kicks and knowing when to run.
“Really the opportunity [to run] just presented itself against the Cowboys to be honest…. It’s been a while, but I enjoyed being back.”
Mason Lino 🔥 #NRLCowboysWarriors
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Lino took on the majority of the general play kicking in the 24-12 loss to North Queensland, putting boot to ball for almost 250 metres and often being the preferred option on last-tackle plays.
By the end of the match Lino had also run the ball nine times for 90 metres, complementing the work of halves partner Kieran Foran, who enjoyed one of his best games of the year.
“’Foz’ [Foran] told me before the game that all I had to worry about was last tackles and that he would control the game,” Lino said.
“He obviously brought back his running game, which he loved, and it was awesome to see him break through a bit.
“With him focusing on controlling the game all I have to do is make sure I am in the right position to get a kick away.”
“It’s a massive learning curve for me” – Mason Lino on his NRL return.#NRLCowboysWarriors
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Meanwhile coach Stephen Kearney spoke about his decision to start Lino in the No.7 jersey ahead of fellow youngster Ata Hingano.
“I was always confident. He [Lino] has been in and around the 21 that you name each week for most of the year and he has been playing really consistent football at ISP [reserve grade] level,” Kearney said.
“I didn’t have any doubt that he has something to offer the group.
“I thought for the most part, and given the time he has had away from first grade, I thought he brought a real calmness to the group and I was impressed.
“Now it is about making sure that he improves on that performance and puts his best foot forward on Friday night.”