One tackle changed the course of Mason Lino's career 3½ years ago.

If not for that moment, Lino's destiny could have been different.

Lino, who will wear the No7 jersey for the Warriors against the Storm in their Anzac Day clash - a game that could define their NRL season - had his Sliding Doors episode in the 2014 Holden Cup grand final.

Then a promising Warriors junior but stuck behind a plethora of halves at the club, Lino was heading to France after the grand final. He had already signed a contract with Carcassonne, and his future was in the Northern Hemisphere.


Once that kind of move is made to Europe few players return, with Sam Moa, Thomas Leuluai and Frank Pritchard rare recent exceptions.

But then that tackle happened, as Lino's shoulder popped out as he tried to halt a Broncos player.

That injury (partial dislocation) voided the contract, as he needed surgery, and Lino stayed at Mt Smart on a minimal deal for the 2015 season.

Fate intervened again with Shaun Johnson's broken ankle, giving Lino an introduction to first grade late in 2015.

"It was a silver lining in a way," said Lino. "At the time it was a really tough period. But my family told me keep working, get better ... anything could happen in this sport."

Lino was a key figure in that 2014 NYC title - notably his famous sideline conversion against Penrith to get the team into the top eight - but former Juniors teammates such as Solomone Kata (70 games), Sam Lisone (69) and Ken Maumalo (48) have had much swifter progressions to first grade.

That's the reality of being stuck in the selection queue behind Johnson, but Lino has stuck steadily to his goal. He made six appearances at the end of last season when Johnson was injured, and was solid in a struggling team, while his form this year has underlined his potential.

"I've had really good support and I've kept working on my game," said Lino.


"It is pretty hard sometimes but the coaches have always been pushing me to be better, and to be honest I wouldn't be here without them pushing me. They know I have an ability to play first grade and they helped me to see that."

Lino's composure and game awareness has always impressed. That was shown last season, when he gave an assured display against the Cowboys in Townsville, belying an absence of almost two years from the NRL. It has been even more apparent this year, with a powerful forward pack in front of him, and confidence all through the backline.

"I've always really rated him," said teammate Simon Mannering. "He's got a real steady head on his shoulders. You know he is going to defend well, get a good kick in and really compete."

Lino, who was born in Samoa and also has Chinese ancestry, took up league as a teenager. His potential was soon spotted as a junior with Marist, and he was picked up by the Warriors. He's small for a modern day halfback (1.76m) but he's tough, evidenced by his willingness to chop down the Dragons forwards.

"You just have to get your body in front and hold on," said Lino when asked about his defensive technique.

Lino also toughened up last year with extra pre-season sessions tackling Manu Vatuvei, and can be spotted after most sessions hitting the bags.

The 24-year-old faces the toughest test of his short career in tonight's crunch clash, with the Storm experts at isolating individuals and finding weaknesses. But Lino has already shown his aptitude for the big occasion, and he will relish the atmosphere in Melbourne.