Willie Mason is tipped to bid au revoir to the NRL after receiving a lucrative offer to finish his career at Super League side Catalans.
Mason has been one of rugby league's most colourful characters since bursting onto the scene in 2000 and still believes, at the age of 35, he has more to offer. The former NSW and Australian forward has achieved every goal imaginable during his time with the Bulldogs, Roosters, Cowboys, Knights and Sea Eagles, including a Canterbury premiership triumph in which he was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal. Several NRL clubs have approached him about a one-year deal but he is tipped to join a star-studded Dragons squad already containing Todd Carney, Glenn Stewart, Willie Tonga, Krisnan Inu, Dave Taylor and Justin Horo.
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Mason was coy about his future, but has shelved any thoughts of retirement after discussing his options with long-time mentor Wayne Bennett. "I'm 35 but my body is in good nick, I don't miss any sessions," Mason told Fairfax Media. "If I didn't get suspended I would have played every game this year. I was playing more minutes, doing more work and if you look at the stats, I'm more productive than my last three years. Me and Wayne have had a good talk just about next year and the future of what I want to do. So I'm thinking 'why retire?' Because of my age? It doesn't mean anything really.
"Me and Wayne were sitting down and I spoke to Bedsy [Danny Buderus] and Joey [Andrew Johns]. The main difference between me and them was they had to retire [due to injury]. I know I'm one injury away from retirement but I'm not injured, I still enjoy it. I don't wake up every morning thinking 'I hate my job' - I love my job. You can't do anything else where the pay is good, you wake up and muck around with your mates and get to compete on the weekend. The only thing that sucks is pre-season. I'm trying to hold it off as long as I am."
Mason is officially clubless but was made to sweat it out during a session with sprint coach Roger Fabri on Wednesday. Fabri has been keeping Mason and other sporting stars in shape over summer as his Speed and Agility Academy at Centennial Park prepares to host American guru Tevin Allen, considered one of the world's foremost footwork specialists, during a series of clinics open to the public from December 7-12.
Mason, a headline magnet who has added colour to an increasingly sanitised game, said he felt for the current generation of players who missed out on the freedoms afforded the previous one. Having spent time in rugby - and almost embarking on a Jarryd Hayne-style conversion to the NFL - "Big Willie" lamented the end of days before camera phones and seemingly endless rule changes. "In a way, you wish you didn't get to see all that stuff we did," he said. "I know I'm sounding like a dinosaur, but it was so much fun playing 10 years ago. The current generation doesn't know what it's missing. For a person like me, who has seen it all and been in the middle of it, what do you do?
"For a young kid who is 20, they don't know any better. They haven't been like me where they have seen it all, how hard the game was. It's still hard now but it's just so sanitised. I love the game, I will always love the game, but people have a lot more ammo to hammer the game because it's changed so much. In five years there have been more rule changes than the previous 100-odd.
"The last four games, I was suspended for three for virtually nothing. That ate at me a little bit. You think, if that's the way the game is going to be, then maybe it's beyond me and maybe I need to go somewhere else."
While Mason maintained he was undecided about his future club, he believed he was suited to the English style of play. "Apparently forwards are allowed to offload over there," he quipped. "I might even make a line break."