The Newcastle Knights have signed controversial forward Willie Mason.
‘‘We’ve signed Willie for the rest of the year,’’ said Knights chief executive Matt Gidley.
The decision came after discussions with coach Wayne Bennett and stakeholders today.
'‘I spoke with Wayne at length about this, like we do with most players we look to sign, and we weighed up the strengths and weaknesses and we both agreed that we’re comfortable with offering Willie an opportunity with us for the remainder of this year.’’
Bennett believes Mason, whom he has coached in Australian teams, will 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.
A media release from Hunter Sports Group quoted Mason as saying: "I am grateful that Wayne and the club have shown confidence in me to contribute to the club and I will not be wasting the opportunity to not only perform on the field but to contribute to the Knights' strong community programs. I am aware that I still have plenty of hard work ahead of me to earn a spot in the NRL team. It is great to be home and playing in front of my family, friends and the Newcastle community. I can't wait to run out for my first game in the famous Knights colours."
Knights captain Kurt Gidley said on Twitter: ''Looking forward to playing along side my big mate @mase21 again! Just had lunch with him and he's pumped to be apart of the @NRLKnights''.
A Newcastle Herald online poll today reflected the way Mason polarises opinion.
In answer to the question ''Should the Newcastle Knights sign Willie Mason'', 54.6% of the 915 respondents up until 4.30pm said no, and 45.4% voted yes.