Mason: It couldn't have worked out better
Larger-than-life Manly recruit Willie Mason has declared things couldn't possibly have worked out better than a deal with Manly after being deemed surplus to requirements at Newcastle.
In a jovial media session at the club's Narrabeen training base, the 34-year-old said he had quickly adapted to the renowned culture of the club, adding the "swagger" of the Manly players reminded him of his successful days at the Bulldogs in the early 2000s.
"It couldn't have worked out any better. If I could have picked any team I wanted to go to I would have picked Manly over any team in the NRL – I'm very proud to play for this club," Mason said.
The pair's halves are arguably the best in the game and there are a host of senior players such as captain Jamie Lyon, fullback Brett Stewart and newly-re-signed centre Steve Matai who are there to share the leadership burden, he added.
"They're all winners; it's a privilege to play for Manly," he said.
"It just reminds me of the Bulldogs when we were really successful, the sort of swagger the Manly boys have got – you don't talk about 'oh gee I hope we make the top eight', that's pretty much a given around here.
"Ten years of making the top four pretty much every year, grand finals and all that kind of stuff, I think the standard is that. The standards are high, and everybody lives up to it and if you don't live up to it you're not going to be in the 17."
Mason said it was one of the most enjoyable clubs he'd been at, especially coming off a stressful year at Newcastle where a number of dramas – not least the terrible injury to Alex McKinnon – had cast a pall over the year. Combined with the elevated expectations that followed the appointment of supercoach Wayne Bennet, which were not met during Bennett's tenure, it all made for a high-pressure situation, he said.
"There was a lot of pressure on the young kids and a lot of pressure on Wayne. I've got so much respect for that guy, he's a man's man and we were in situations where even he didn't know how to handle it so how do you expect a bunch of young men know how to handle it, let alone kids like Sione Mata'utia, Gags [Dane Gagai] and BJ [Joey Leilua] and all these sorts of kids.
"Coming here with guys like Killer [Lyon] and Snake [Stewart] and Steve Matai and all these senior players that I've known for years and played against and played with, it's just really fun being at training, everyone's got high energy.
"They expect you when you hit the field out there to be 100 per cent, if you're not right to train you're in rehab. So you need to be hitting the deck at 100 per cent.
"They're pretty good with the senior players – they go, 'have a swim, get your body right and make sure your head's right to train' – and they're like that during the year because every time you play Manly they seem to be coming out of a cannon at 100 miles an hour. Next thing it's 20-nil because they start very hard and fast."
Mason said he had recently moved to Collaroy, just north of Manly, and was loving the chilled-out northern beaches life as much as the new club.
"I'm really enjoying it and now I just can't wait for the football season to start because we've put so much hard work in, we just want to get it going."
He is yet to think about his career plans beyond his current one-year deal at Manly.
"I've got to get through this year first!" he laughed.
"Regardless of age and all this kinda stuff, if I keep competing with these young guys and I still love training. I'm at a stage now where if I want to retire, I can retire. I don't play for money, I play for the camaraderie with the guys, the training and just competing every week and winning.
"I just love competing, regardless of age, if I can keep competing at a high level so be it.
"There's always young kids trying to knock you off, there's always old blokes trying to get you; I've got a lot of pride and I don't want to get dusted every week and if that was happening I would retire."
For his part, Manly coach Geoff Toovey said he was expecting Mason to provide even more in 2015 than he did for Newcastle in 2014.
"I thought he had one of his better years last year with Newcastle," Toovey said.
"I thought he played some really good football and we're expecting that from him here at Manly as well, and we're expecting some more out of him so I think he's in for a big year."