Matulino, Masoe great mates off the field
Old mates Ben Matulino and Mose Masoe have taken separate paths in their professional careers but it should be a shuddering moment when they collide in the fifth round of the NRL at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium tonight.
Both are on the benches – Matulino for the Warriors and Masoe for the Sydney Roosters – and the greeting certainly won't be in the form of a handshake.
They grew up together playing in Wellington with the Randwick Kingfishers club before Matulino headed north and Masoe crossed the Tasman.
Matulino has gone on to earn Kiwis honours and Masoe, a nephew of All Blacks' enforcer Chris Masoe and former world champion boxer Maselino Masoe, is fast earning a reputation as one of the biggest hitters in the league.
Matulino is well aware of that.
"I'm not looking forward to playing Mose – he's been smashing every guy who runs at him. I'll be staying out of the way," joked Matulino.
"Nah, it's always good to come up against an old neighbour of mine. Mose grew up just around the corner and we used to go to training together all the time."
Matulino is out to make an impact of his own. A bit like his team, he reckons his game is slowly coming together.
He's a rare player who will admit to feeling comfortable with a role on the interchange rather than a starting jersey. For now, anyway.
"I'm not used to the pace at the moment so I don't mind being off the interchange at all really. I enjoy coming off the bench a lot more than starting," confessed the 22-year-old.
Matulino says his early season struggles are nothing new. But they continue to perplex him.
"I think it's just a mental thing for me. Fitness-wise my times were a lot better than last year. It's just the game fitness is a lot different and I have to work on that.
"So it's just pushing through fatigue. That's always a problem for me at the start of the year and it takes me a while to get into it.
"I'm not too proud of how I've been going at the moment.
"So I'm just trying to work on things week-by-week and not trying to fix it all at the same time or things will crash.
"Hopefully this week I will play better footy – make more runs and do more work."
Matulino says he has been getting plenty of help from coaches Ivan Cleary and Tony Iro. They clearly recognise his value. Last year Matulino was one of two players – hooker Aaron Heremaia was the other – to feature in all 24 matches.
He has brought up 61 appearances in the NRL since debuting in 2008 and has been one of the quiet achievers of the pack though his work hasn't gone unnoticed by Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney who has handed him seven test caps over the last two years.
As a Kiwi, Matulino might have to look over his shoulder as Masoe's career gathers pace with the Roosters. The two are versatile forwards who can play prop or second row.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Where and when: Mt Smart Stadium tonight 7.30pm
TV: Sky Sport 2
TAB: Warriors $2.20, Roosters $1.57
Warriors: Glen Fisiiahi, Bill Tupou, Shaun Berrigan, Simon Mannering (c), Krisnan Inu, Feleti Mateo, James Maloney, Sam Rapira, Aaron Heremaia, Jacob Lillyman, Lewis Brown, Ukuma Ta'ai, Michael Luck. Interchange: Kevin Locke, Jeremy Latimore, Ben Matulino, Elijah Taylor, Matt Robinson.
Roosters: Anthony Minichiello, Justin Carney, Mitchell Aubusson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Joseph 'BJ' Leilua, Todd Carney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Martin Kennedy, Braith Anasta, Tom Symonds, Nate Myles. Interchange: Jason Ryles, Mose Masoe, Mark Riddell, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Daniel Conn, Tinirau Arona, Phil Graham.
Referees: Jason Robinson and Chris James.