Mason Lino's out-of-the-blue call up to the NZ Warriors first-grade side is both a blessing and a curse.

Lino has been named to replace the injured Shaun Johnson in the line-up to face North Queensland, preferred ahead of Ata Hingano for the Round 20 clash.

It will be his first NRL appearance in almost two years, since he played three games during the awful end to the 2015 season, when the Warriors lost six straight, after Johnson suffered an ankle injury.

While Lino, who is the only change to the Warriors 17, will be thrilled at the opportunity, it's another "deep end" scenario. He comes into a team that has lost two consecutive matches, needs a victory keep their season alive, on the toughest road trip in the NRL, at a ground where the Warriors have won once in 11 attempts.


Welcome back to first grade, Mr Lino.

Players like Lino, who has yet to win an NRL match, must glance enviously at rookies in other clubs, who often get much softer introductions to first grade, entering a winning dressing room with less pressure.

But that's the way it is for the 23-year-old and it's reward for two consistent seasons in the Intrust Super Premiership team, whom he led to the finals last year and are currently second after 19 rounds in this year's competition.

Lino is a solid player and his organisational skills must have been judged as superior to those of Hingano, who is on the bench as cover for both halves and hooker.

It will leave supporters of Hingano scratching their heads though, especially as the Tongan has been earmarked - at this stage - to wear the No 6 jersey next year, after Kieran Foran's departure.

"It's tough losing a player of Shaun's calibre, but we know Mason will do a good job for us," said Warriors coach Stephen Kearney.

"He has been really consistent for our ISP side. At the same time, we have Ata on the bench, with his ability to cover the halves and hooker."

Perhaps more surprising is Kearney's decision to make no other changes, despite the poor 34-22 loss to Penrith last Friday.

Some players, particularly among the forwards, must be testing Kearney's patience, but his selection probably says as much about the current depth at the club as his famous loyalty.

The Warriors have an awful record in Townsville. While the sides have split their 36 previous NRL encounters with 18 wins each, the Auckland club has won just once in the tropical North since 2002.

Jacob Lillyman will play his 246th career match (his 184th for the Warriors), when he faces his original NRL side, while wing David Fusitu'a lines up for his 51st first-grade game, after his milestone slipped under the radar last week. ​

Warriors v North Queensland Cowboys
1300smiles Stadium, Townsville
9.30pm (NZT), Saturday, July 22

1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (C)
2 David Fusitu'a
3 Blake Ayshford
4 Solomone Kata
5 Ken Maumalo
6 Kieran Foran
7 Mason Lino
8 Jacob Lillyman
9 Issac Luke
10 Ben Matulino
11 Bodene Thompson
12 Bunty Afoa
13 Simon Mannering

14 Mafoa'aeata Hingano
15 Sam Lisone
16 James Gavet
17 Ligi Sao
18 Jazz Tevaga
20 Chris Satae
21 Isaiah Papali'i
22 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad