Waratahs flyhalf Mack Mason will have a chance to make his Super Rugby mark on Friday night on a ground that his schoolboy teammate, Knights star Kalyn Ponga, is already turning into his own.
Where Ponga’s ascension through the NRL and Origin ranks has been meteoric, Mason has had to bide his time in Super Rugby behind the regular Test flyhalf Bernard Foley.
Friday will be just Mason’s second Super Rugby start in three seasons with the Waratahs, after a 2017 outing against the Crusaders.
Mason and Ponga played in the 2014 Anglican Church Grammar School (Churchie) First XV that spawned a host of professional players across rugby and rugby league.
The pair are still friends, hoping to catch up before the Waratahs head back to Sydney, with the Knights playing in Canberra on Friday night.
Mason had his own fledging rugby league career, playing with the Storm U20s, before returning to rugby with the Reds U20s and the Australian U20s and then making the move to NSW.
Mason could arguably have become a regular starting 10 more quickly in other states but he said he had no regrets about committing to NSW in the long-term, taking a more holistic view of his career.
“I made a decision, you've got to live by your decisions so I made a decision, I'll stick with it and hopefully it pays off in the long run,” he said.
“Last year was probably my most frustrating year, but it was probably the year where I've learned so much about myself and the game of rugby as a whole.
“Bernard sees the game as a whole, not just his own position and that is probably where I'm at now, so it's really good to have him above me to learn off him.”
While he didn’t have any Super Rugby opportunities last year, Mason said a season of playing for Easts in the Shute Shield helped him “own” his position and stamp some authority on a team, something that will be invaluable as he looks to progress.
“At Easts I played a whole year, I didn't have any games off, got a chance to really own Easts down there and I think I did that last year,” he said.
“We made it to the quarter-finals against Sydney Uni, they knocked us out in a really close game but definitely stood up I reckon as a five-eighth and as a leader.”
While he has watched Foley closely in his three seasons in Sydney, Mason is keen to carve out his own identity in the playmaking role.
“There’s definitely no pressure at all to do what “Nard” does,” he said.
“I'm my own player and I play like I do and I haven't had any outside influences on anything so I'll just do what I do well.
“I like to play at the line, play on top a bit, just ways 10s can play different so I probably am a bit more like a league playmaker in that sense, I square up, know who I'm getting at, look to run a bit as well.”
Kurtley Beale is one player very keen to link up with Mason, confident their similar approaches to the game will gel quickly.
“I'm really excited actually, I haven't played with Mack, I've trained with him most times over the preseason and obviously he's a special talent and he gets his opportunity tomorrow night so I know he's very excited about that,” he said.
“He brings a lot more directness to the game, I think although Bernard's pretty similar, he's a bit more of a leaguie.
“I think that's probably my natural gravitation towards him as well, we both see the game with similar eyes ...so I'm looking forward to building the combination there with him and I'm sure he'll do a great job leading the boys around and filling in the shoes of Bernard quite well.”
The Waratahs take on the Sunwolves on Friday night at McDonald Jones Stadium, kicking off at 7;45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.