Mason Lino grew up dreaming of becoming an All Black – now he is focused on ending a six-year West Yorkshire derby drought.
The Wakefield playmaker idolised rugby union stars Andrew Mehrtens and Carlos Spencer as a youngster in New Zealand, having moved from Samoa before starting school.
It was Kiwi rugby league legend Stacey Jones that helped change his sporting path, which this year has led him to the north of England with Trinity.
Lino explained: “I started playing league pretty late at about 16. I grew up wanting to be an All Black – it was always Andrew Mehrtens and Carlos Spencer.
“But then I started to watch a bit of league and I can remember seeing Stacey Jones scoring for New Zealand Warriors in the Grand Final against the Roosters. Eventually a mate talked me into going down to a league training session.”
Less than a year later Lino had been signed into the Warriors development system, and after playing in the NRL there and later at Newcastle Knights, he penned a three-year deal with Wakefield.
His influence on Chris Chester’s improving side has grown in recent weeks, and will need to again tonight as they face local rivals the Tigers, who they have not beaten since February 2015.
Lino said: “It’s important that we start fast against them. They’re a quality team with a very strong back field, and we need to start strongly and not look back. Hopefully the Wakefield fans will help to make it a hostile place to play.”
Coach Chester has never guided his hometown team to a win over Castleford but insisted he is not dwelling on that. Chester said: “I’ve not really lost any sleep over it.
“Sometimes you get bogged down by those things, and I just want the players to focus on what’s really important, and that’s individually being the best version of themselves. If they can do, then it gives us a chance.”
Chester – who welcomes back winger Tom Johnstone from concussion issues – sees half-back Lino as a key figure. He added: “I can’t speak highly enough of Mase – he had a real tough start here when we had our full-back, hooker and other recognised half out.
“The first four or five weeks he was having to do everything, but now we’ve got that spine together he’s got that support. I’ve been really impressed by his form – his kick game is excellent, his goal kicking is fantastic, he knows when to run and pass and he’s coming up with some real good options.
“There’s more improvement in him as well, but I’ve been really pleased with his first 10 weeks and if we can keep all these guys fit we’ve got a really good tracking spine.”