Knights decide today on signing Willie Mason

THE Newcastle Knights will decide today whether to throw controversial former NSW and Australian forward Willie Mason an NRL lifeline.

Chief executive Matt Gidley, who has been on a working holiday on the Gold Coast since Saturday, will return to Newcastle today to discuss the issue with major stakeholders then make a final decision after taking that feedback to coach Wayne Bennett.

The Newcastle Herald has been told Bennett wants to sign Mason for the rest of the year and has the support of billionaire owner Nathan Tinkler.

Bennett believes Mason, whom he has coached in Australian teams, would bolster Newcastle’s pack after just three wins from their first seven games.

Unlike Bennett, some influential Knights figures believe Mason is not the type of player or person they should recruit, given his lack of game time in the past two years and his reputation as a bad boy who polarises opinion in the rugby league and wider community.

In his prime, the former Bulldogs, Roosters and Cowboys enforcer was one of the most damaging ball-running forwards in world rugby league.

The Macquarie Scorpions and Hunter Mariners junior played 24 Test matches for Australia and 13 State of Origin games for NSW last decade.

But since his 24 games for the Cowboys in 2010, he has played just six English Super League games with Hull Kingston Rovers and 74 minutes for French rugby union club Toulon last year.

Mason was released early from his contracts with both those European clubs and since returning to Australia in December has been trying to resurrect his NRL career.

Gidley confirmed that the club had not signed his former NSW and Australian teammate, who knocked back the Knights two years ago to join the Cowboys.

‘‘There hasn’t been any deal agreed to with Willie Mason right now, but his name has come up in discussions, as it has done a number of times over the last six months,’’ Gidley said.

‘‘At the moment I’m going to take this back and discuss it with a number of stakeholders at our club to determine their position on this before we make any decision.’’

Wests Tigers went through the same process last month after they were on the verge of signing the premiership-winning 2004 Clive Churchill Medallist, but the deal fell through after negative responses from key sponsors and supporters.

A Sydney newspaper reported yesterday that Mason was poised to sign a deal with the Knights worth a $40,000 sign-on fee plus match payments pending the outcome of a medical assessment in Newcastle.

A Knights source told the Herald Mason did not undergo a medical or fitness assessment yesterday that was authorised by the club.

A contributor to the Herald website said Mason and Knights high-performance manager Jeremy Hickmans ‘‘just walked past me’’ at the club’s Balance Mayfield training facility yesterday, but Hickmans denied this.

‘‘Not true, I’m afraid. Maybe someone looks like me or Willie,’’ Hickmans told the Herald via a text message.

Neither Bennett nor Tinkler could be contacted for comment.

NIB Health Funds chief executive Mark Fitzgibbon, whose organisation sponsors the Knights, gave conditional support.

A former Knights director, Fitzgibbon said that if Mason improved the team’s on-field performance, then he was worth signing, provided any potential behavioural issues were ‘‘properly managed’’ by Bennett and club management.

‘‘We don’t have a drama with it, provided any risks associated with such a signing are properly managed, and Wayne Bennett as coach certainly helps manage that risk,’’ Fitzgibbon told the Herald yesterday.

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