THE Newcastle Knights have distanced themselves from reports linking them to controversial former NSW and Australian forward Willie Mason.
A Sydney newspaper reported today that the 32-year-old journeyman, who hails from Toronto and played his junior league with Macquarie Scorpions and the now defunct Hunter Mariners, was poised to sign a contract with the Knights worth $40,000 plus match payments, pending the outcome of a medical assessment today.
According to the report, Knights coach Wayne Bennett wanted to sign Mason, who he has coached in Australian teams, to bolster Newcastle’s pack for the rest of the NRL season after just three wins from their first seven games.
A Knights source said there was no offer on the table for the premiership-winning former Bulldogs, Roosters and Cowboys enforcer, and that he would not be undergoing any medical and fitness test authorised by the club today.
The Newcastle Herald has been told Mason’s agent, Sam Ayoub, contacted the Knights on Sunday asking about the possibility of the 2004 Churchill Medallist joining his home-town club.
Mason has been considering his career options since parting company with Toulon last December after an eight-month stint with the French rugby union club.
Ayoub was told that the Knights would give him an answer today, and they had planned to spend the past 48 hours conducting their own inquiries about Mason and whether he would be accepted at the club by supporters and sponsors.
Wests Tigers went through a similar process last month after they were on the verge of signing Mason, but the deal fell through after negative feedback from their key stakeholders.
Knights chief executive Matt Gidley, a former NSW and Australian teammate of Mason’s, said there had been ‘‘nothing agreed at all’’ and the club was ‘‘still not sure what direction to take’’ regarding a player who has polarised the rugby league community for much of his career.
Mason was close to signing with the Knights in March 2010, as a replacement for convicted drug dealer Danny Wicks, but he instead chose the Cowboys in the belief that he had more chance of winning a premiership in Townsville than in Newcastle and to play alongside former Bulldogs teammates Johnathan Thurston, Willie Tonga and Ben Harris.
The Cowboys finished second-last that year – Melbourne ran last after being stripped of all their premiership points for deliberately breaching the salary cap – and the Knights finished 11th.