A gruelling physio program helped Newcastle half Mason Lino return from serious shoulder surgery months earlier than expected to fight for another NRL chance in 2020.
The 26-year-old five-eighth underwent a shoulder reconstruction during the off-season and was given a time frame of recovery between six to eight months.
He returned in a bit over five months.
The off-contract half was back on the field for the NRL Nines in Perth over the weekend and earned his place in the team of the tournament, spurred on by his uncertain NRL future.
Speaking during the two-day event, Lino said he pushed himself hard in recovery to fight for the Knights' No.6 jersey in 2020 against stiff competition from Kurt Mann and Connor Watson.
"The program that they put up for me, when I first looked at it, I was thinking how could I get this done? They kept getting after me every day and working hard so I'm just really happy for their help and glad to be back playing," he told AAP.
"It's one of the main driving points for me really, is just trying to get back out there and put up a fight for the spot."
Mann has been consistently training alongside star halfback Mitchell Pearce throughout the NRL pre-season, but Lino is nipping at his heels.
It's expected Lino will get more of a chance to fight for the spot over the next fortnight, with the Knights playing St George Illawarra and the Roosters in NRL trials.
When asked what new coach Adam O'Brien wants to see from him in the trials, Lino said: "Effort, big emphasis on defence, he wants the best defenders out there playing every week so that's a big focus of mine to get my defence right and put in a big push for the position."
In 2019 he played 12 games for the Knights and finished the season alongside Pearce for the last six games.
The Knights captain, who watched the Nines from home, said he was impressed with Lino's performance and improved defence.
"Mase was great, he's got a great running game and he's got great instincts," Pearce said.
"He's played a fair bit of first grade now, so we know what a talented player he is. That sort of style really suits him and I thought he carved up over there."
Australian Associated Press