Mason thriving and ready for a dose of rep football
Pointers ... Willie Mason with All Stars and Knights coach Wayne Bennett. Photo: Ryan Osland
IT IS a long way from State of Origin, but Willie Mason believes his return to representative football could continue beyond this Saturday night's All Stars match in Brisbane.
The 32-year-old has never been short of confidence, hence his belief he still has what it takes to compete in the representative arena.
When he left the NRL at the end of 2010 it looked unlikely Mason would play on Australian soil again.
But having been offered a lifeline via a one-year contract with Newcastle early last season, which has since been extended by another two years, the veteran has thrived.
Despite his impressive year upon his arrival back in Australia, the former Bulldogs, Roosters and Cowboys forward backed his decision to walk away from the NRL.
''I left to get away from all this,'' Mason said. ''I had a great 18 months and I don't regret it. This time last year I'd just got back from France and I was pretty relaxed and I probably wasn't worried about footy too much.
''But once I got back into it, … I knew all these jerseys would come back if I played my best. I've heard this week is one of the best of the year and I am really looking forward to being part of it. And there's no pressure, unlike Origin.''
Mason, who has prospered at the Knights under the guidance of Wayne Bennett, was the NRL All Stars coach's selection for Saturday's match against the Indigenous All Stars.
It was yet another indication of how far the once-maligned footballer has come in nine months.
The All Stars match will be his maiden appearance in the pre-season trial that was introduced in 2010, but he doesn't agree with the suggestion the NRL All Stars lack motivation.
''It's a massive leap that rugby league has taken for this indigenous game versus the All Stars,'' Mason said. ''I think it's a great initiative the NRL is doing. The indigenous guys take it really seriously. Talking to Johno [Johnathan Thurston] and GI [Greg Inglis], they love representing the indigenous people.
''The last few years the All Stars have stepped up and met that challenge … there's pride on the line and they're playing for their indigenous culture and we're playing for us.''
Several high-profile players, including Melbourne's Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk and Manly's Anthony Watmough, have withdrawn with injuries. But Mason doesn't hold any fears, despite being a month away from the start of the season.
''Everyone signs up to play the game and we don't care if we get injured,'' he said. ''The fans and your coach would be a little bit sceptical, but Wayne's my coach and he picked me in the team. If you're going to live your life like that or … coach like that, you shouldn't be playing the game.
''If you're worried about getting injured, don't play the game … if you're fit enough to play the game you should be playing, if not, go play touch footy.''