Mason out to prove doubters wrong
Manly recruit Willie Mason says in addition to providing experience to Manly's front row, his main driving force in his 15th NRL season will be to keep proving the doubters wrong.
Like the ones who decided his services wouldn't be of use to the Knights in 2015.
While Mason stressed he had no animosity towards anyone at the club – the club that threw him a lifeline on his return from an ultimately unsuccessful one-year stint in European league and union riddled with misfortune – to know he wasn't wanted there for a fourth year drives him.
"I suppose this year, not being wanted by the Knights drives me even harder… pretty much proving everybody wrong all the time [is my motivation]. So that's pretty much what drives me every week to play,” Mason said.
"And these young kids coming up trying to take your head off is always fun so you can't really take a backwards step. Training, being around all these young kids and all these enthusiastic people, they look up to me as a leader; you can't let these kids down," he added.
Announcing the signing of Mason – along with Warrior Feleti Mateo and Shark Siosaia Vave – recently, Toovey spoke of the loss of experience at the club in recent years with the likes of Brent Kite, Joe Galuvao, Jason King, Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough leaving a huge gap up front.
Mason was under no illusions as to why he was brought to the northern beaches.
"I do understand my role within the team – they've lost some experienced players like Jason King and Watmough over the last couple of years. I do bring that experience that they need," he said. "’Tooves’ talked about a month ago, he told me my job within the club. I know my role as a player on and off the field now so I'm just looking forward to playing."
He said he would look to bring "some mongrel and some intimidation" to Manly's pack, and added the man likely to be his front row partner come Round 1 – Brenton Lawrence – was also excited about Mason's move.
Mason said there were plenty of things that were appealing about joining Manly – the fact they have been arguably the premier team of the past 10 years, their "tough and ruthless" style of play, and what he described as "probably the best backline in the comp".
"Just the way Manly play, even though they've been down on troops with certain players out – that's when you know you've got a good culture, when you can bring some young kids up and they can do the same job.
"They always compete with teams and that's what I love. They never get blown out by 30 points. They know what they're going to bring week in week out is a tough team and you're going to have to play your best to beat Manly.
"I'm very privileged to be a part of that team and I want to be a part of that success."
Just about the only thing about Manly that Mason didn't compliment was their home ground.
"I can't give Brookvale a rap!" Mason laughed when quizzed about the run-down suburban fortress.
"I think their [home] dressing sheds is like a palace then [the away sheds] is like open showers, it's a shemozzle."
But he said he was still looking forward to playing there as a home player rather than a visitor.
"You play there on a Friday night or muddy games, stuff like that, you usually get the crap beaten out of you," he said.
"I think I've won two games at Brookvale in my whole career so it is a fortress."
It proves there is nothing wrong with his memory: Mason has in fact won twice at Brookvale (as a Bulldog in 2003 and 2007) with four losses in 2009 (as a Rooster) and in 2012, 2013 and 2014 with Newcastle.
Mason wouldn't guarantee the 2015 season – his 15th in the NRL and 16th at the top level counting a year at Hull KR and Toulon – would be his last.
"It's just a number... If I keep playing at a high level and keep competing and I love training, I love playing," he said.
"I'll keep playing if my body holds up. If the day comes where I don't really feel like turning up to training or I don't feel like putting 100 per cent in, that's it."