SIONE Masima has his family and a photo of him “getting smashed” to thank for his smooth transition into life in the south of France.
Masima has been a revelation for the Grizzlies since his arrival early in the season and has played a vital role as the club charges towards the 2015–16 French Federation of Rugby League Elite 1 finals.
Limoux finished the season’s first phase in second position behind league leaders Carcassonne after losing only two matches during the opening 16 rounds.
They advanced through to the Lord Derby Cup semi-finals on the back of a convincing 66–28 quarter-final win over Villeneuve Leopards on the weekend.
The former Cronulla Sharks second rower jetted out of Sydney four months ago, and after a stopover in London, touched down in Toulouse, located an hour’s drive from Limoux.
He arrived shortly before Limoux’s Round 7 34–18 win over their opponents this Sunday, Lezignan Sangliers — and fortunately he and his partner Amanda found their way to the small village, famous for its sparkling wine.
[Note: Local legend goes that Dom Perignon learned how to produce sparkling white wine in the town before moving to the Champagne region and popularising the drink.]
“We flew straight from Heathrow to Toulouse and I got out of the airport, picked up my luggage and was looking everywhere for someone from the club,” Masima recalled of his arrival in France.
“It took us a good 20 minutes until we found the guy holding the photo. My heart was beating. I got scared for a second. I was wondering whether we were at the right airport or not, or whether we had landed at the right place.
“But someone from the club was there and had my photo out so I walked up to him and said ‘It’s me,’.”
Of all the photographs the club could have sourced, the Limoux representative was brandishing one of Masima being clothes-lined by a pair of Penrith Panthers defenders.
“They had the worst picture there of me. They had a footy picture of me running the ball, and I got smashed in that picture,” he said.
“There’s probably a million (other) photos of me they could have got but the one photo they had of me was me getting smashed by a couple guys. I thought that was pretty hilarious.”
There’s nothing hilarious about the way Masima plays his footy.
The 105kg backrower has troubled opposition defensive lines with his deft footwork and handy offload; and created plenty of opportunities for Limoux’s outside backs catapulting the club towards the top of the ladder.
It’s the type of skill which saw the 23-year-old finish the 2014 NRL season with three consecutive matches for Cronulla.
“Having family here made my decision a lot easier. Growing up my whole life has always been around family (and) having big get-togethers with them. I’m a very family oriented kind of guy.”
Masima signed with South Sydney Rabbitohs for the 2015 season, but things didn’t go to plan.
With ambitions of playing at a higher level, he instead chose a different route to the norm and headed to the other side of the world to play for the Grizzlies.
“I want to push to hopefully get a spot in the Super League and give it a go and see what it’s like,” said Masima, who progressed through the junior ranks at Cronulla.
“In saying that it’s a matter of opportunities and making the most of those opportunities if I get one. Hopefully I can get one and play some good footy in the Super League.
“If not I’ll head back home and try and get a run in the NRL. I’m just taking things slowly. I’m not trying to get too far ahead of myself.”
Growing up in Cronulla, when he wasn’t playing golf and or at footy training, Masima spent plenty of time surrounded by family and friends.
He admitted he had found it difficult at times being some 17,000km away.
However, he’s found his own slice of home here in the south of France with his cousins Robyn and Keith living close by.
Robyn is Catalans Dragons star Krisnan Inu’s partner while Keith plays rugby union for ROC La Voulte-Valence in France’s third division, Federale 1.
It was them who helped persuade him to join Limoux.
“Having family here made my decision a lot easier,” Masima said.
“Growing up my whole life has always been around family (and) having big get-togethers with them. I’m a very family oriented kind of guy.
“Family is a really important thing to me. Being over here away from them is a big challenge for me. It does get hard at times but it helps having family here as well.
“Being able to spend time with them when I can is great. That’s the good thing about coming here.”
The Grizzlies tackle Lezignan on Sunday in the opening match of the season’s second phase.
To watch a live stream of the match click here. Kick-off is at 3pm local time (midnight Sunday in QLD and 1am Monday morning in NSW).