Senior brigade: Willie Mason and Craig Gower at Blues training during the 2004 State of Origin campaign. Photo: Tim Clayton
A decade after they roomed together as members of the Australian team, Newcastle Knights veteran Willie Mason believes Craig Gower can still be an asset in the NRL.
Gower, 35, was released this week by the London Broncos and is expected to sign in the next few days to play out the rest of the season with Newcastle.
If the deal is completed, Gower will become the ninth player on Newcastle's roster aged over 30 - the largest contingent of 30-somethings at any NRL club.
Cronulla have six over-30s, plus Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon, who celebrate the three-decade milestone later this year.
Newcastle's reliance on old stagers has attracted scrutiny, especially as Danny Buderus (back), Kurt Gidley (foot), Timana Tahu (calf), Anthony Quinn (eye) and Matt Hilder (hamstring) are sidelined with injuries.
But Mason, who has played in 27 of a possible 28 games since joining the Knights last year as a 32-year-old, had no doubt the likely recruitment of Gower would prove a shrewd move by master coach Wayne Bennett.
''He's a player with a lot of experience and he's respected through the world of rugby league and rugby union,'' Mason said yesterday. ''He'll be welcomed with open arms.
''He's played with me and Bedsy [Buderus] and Gids at a high level.
''He's very well respected and he's a great bloke.''
Mason denied Newcastle's squad was top heavy with ageing players.
''You need a bit of experience and you need some youth,'' he said.
''We've got some young kids like Alex McKinnon, who's 21 years old.
''We've got Bedsy who's 35 and me and Jezza [Jeremy Smith] who are about 33, and all the rest just sort of fit in between.
''So I'd rather have old, experienced heads around than a bunch of 19-year-olds running my team.''
The giant prop said it was ''weird'' when Bennett told his players earlier this week that the club was interested in signing Gower.
''Ten years ago we were rooming together on Australian tours,'' he said.
Mason played for Country Origin last month and was touted as a contender for the NSW team in Origin I.
But after the Blues' impressive 14-6 win against Queensland in the series opener, he doubts he will be required.
''I think every player would be envious of all the adulation the Blues players got,'' he said.
''Everyone loves that. I've been a part of that before.
''But obviously I wouldn't change the team, unless there are injuries.
''The Blues did a job. They took care of it, and the selectors need to stick by them so they can get the job done again and get the series.''