He may have played just four games to date in the Intrust Super Premiership, but Mason Cerruto says he is just grateful to coach Garth Brennan for bringing him back into the fold in a nick of time to play a major role in Penrith’s grand final success.
Having defeated the NZ Warriors in week one of the finals, Brennan nonetheless made the tough decision to replace Tom Eisenhuth with the Camden junior for their preliminary final clash with the Bulldogs before holding his spot to help Penrith win their second title at this level in four years.
Cerruto’s inclusion meant he was one of five members of Penrith’s grand final winning side that had spent time playing for feeder club St Marys in the Ron Massey Cup, the others being Maika Sivo, Tony Satini, Nick Lui Toso and Eisenhuth.
But despite having spent the majority of the season playing with St Marys, Cerruto said he never gave up on earning the call-up for the finals, adding that it was special that Eisenhuth was able to maintain a spot in the seventeen having been replaced at fullback.
“It was a matter of turning up to training every week, grinding it out in games and doing the best I could and hope that “Brenno” (Garth Brennan) would see my potential,” Cerruto told Nepean News.
“It took over 26 rounds, but finally it came to fruition securing a spot. “It was a good time to find some form at the right end of the season.
“I was especially happy for Eiso (Eisenhuth) as he’s a great person so for the both of us to be in this team it’s great.”
Despite there being fierce competition for fullback spots at Penrith, the ex-Wests Tiger and Parramatta Eel says it was an easy decision to join the Panthers.
“I played a good game for Parra in the Holden Cup against Penrith and they picked me up at the end of the season,” Cerruto replied.
“It was definitely an easy decision to come to Penrith with all the work they put into the young juniors. “I knew Dylan Edwards was there, I played 20’s against him and it was awesome to train under Matt Moylan during pre-season and learn a few things as well.
Last Sunday night’s win is easily the biggest in Cerruto’s career to date, having not won a grand final since his junior days.
“Last time I won a grand final was under 13’s at Camden Rams so it’s great to win one at this level,” Cerruto declared.
“It’s only my fourth game but with this team, the boys really get around you, they’re very inviting and very welcoming whenever I’ve played.”
Cerruto agreed that after a frustrating opening half where the Panthers only completed 58% of their sets to Wyong’s 85%, Maika Sivo's try right on half-time from a Wyong Roos line drop-out was the turning point of the game, as it gave the side a lift when they needed it most.
“Sivo is a try scoring machine, an absolute freak. Ron Massey Cup, Sydney Shield, NSW Cup, everywhere he goes, he scores tries,” Cerruto said.
“So when he scored and we watched their heads go down at halftime, we knew we could come back in the second half and roll them.”
Whilst Cerruto had another solid game at the back, with a game high 192 metres as well as setting up Tony Satini for the try that put Penrith ahead for the first time in the game early in the second half, the fullback was just grateful Sivo was on hand to produce his match-saving tackle on Joseph Manu.
“Absolutely a crucial play. I didn’t even see him coming,” Cerruto conceded.
“Tuivasa-Sheck stepped back on the inside, passed to Manu and Maika just happened to be there.
“It wasn’t luck, it was the result of hard work. “He works his ass off and he’s not lucky to be here, he’s earned it.”
Cerruto has been rewarded for his fine form for the Panthers, having been named in Italy's 54-man squad for the upcoming Rugby League World Cup, which will be culled to 24 in coming weeks.