Auckland, New Zealand, July 18, 2017 – Mason Lino will play his first NRL match in almost two years replacing injured halfback Shaun Johnson for the Vodafone Warriors’ 20th-round NRL encounter with the North Queensland Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium in Townsville on Saturday night (7.30pm local time; 9.30pm NZT).

It means the 23-year-old Lino will revive his NRL career against the same side he faced on debut as Vodafone Warrior #202 at Mount Smart Stadium on August 22, 2015.

It was the first of three matches he played at the tail-end of the 2015 campaign. Since then he has been a constant in the club’s Intrust Super Premiership side, leading it to the finals last season and second after 19 rounds in this year’s competition.

Lino’s selection follows confirmation yesterday that Johnson will be out for six to eight weeks after rupturing the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during last Friday night’s match against Penrith. Ata Hingano will again be on the interchange.

“It’s tough losing a player of Shaun’s calibre but we know Mason will do a good job for us,” said Vodafone Warriors head 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.”

Lino’s inclusion forced by Johnson’s injury is the only change to the starting line-up used in the 22-34 loss to the Panthers.

The first four players named on the bench – Hingano, Sam Lisone, James Gavet and Ligi Sao – were also used against Penrith while the four additional players are Jazz Tevaga, Chris Satae, Isaiah Papali’i and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.

Veteran prop Jacob Lillyman play his 246th career match when he faces his original NRL side (his 184th for the Vodafone Warriors) while wing David Fusitu’a lines up for his 51st first-grade appearance.

Loose forward Simon Mannering goes into Saturday night’s match having topped 50 tackles in each of the Vodafone Warriors’ last three matches with 60 against Canterbury-Bankstown, 54 against Manly and 53 against Penrith (he has missed only three tackles).

He has also been the leading metre-eater among the forwards in consecutive 80-minute efforts with 155 against the Bulldogs, 179 against the Sea Eagles and 128 against the Panthers.

This will be Mannering’s 17th match against the Cowboys as the Vodafone Warriors take on the NRL’s most difficult road trip.

While the sides have split their 36 previous encounters with 18 wins each, the Vodafone Warriors have won only once in their last 11 meetings in Townsville since 2002 (a 20-16 victory in 2014).