COACH Wayne Bennett is unlikely to witness Willie Mason’s Knights debut in Newcastle’s NSW Cup game against Illawarra Cutters at Toyota Stadium tomorrow.
The charismatic former NSW and Australian forward, who the Knights signed on Wednesday for the rest of the year, is tipped to play about 30minutes off the bench against the Cutters.
Apart from playing alongside his 20-year-old brother Rodney, 32-year-old Mason will be joined by several Knights NRL players in a star-studded NSW Cup line-up.
‘‘Wayne won’t be at the ground at this stage and will assess him after viewing the DVD,’’ Knights chief executive Matt Gidley told the Newcastle Herald via a text message.
‘‘I don’t think he will start. I imagine he will get 20 or 30 minutes to see where he is at.’’
After consultation with Bennett and assistant Rick Stone, NSW Cup coach Rip Taylor will settle on a team after a final training run today. Mason will train this morning but was not required last night because he ran with injured captain Kurt Gidley on Thursday.
‘‘Wayne’s given me a bit of an idea of what he wants to get out of him, so that’s where it will start and end, obviously,’’ Taylor said.
The Knights’ next NRL game is against Penrith at Hunter Stadium on Monday, April 30, and Mason will be considered for that depending on how he plays tomorrow and how he pulls up.
Knights football operations manager Warren Smiles said centre Wes Naiqama, props Richie Fa’aoso and Evarn Tuimavave, and halfback Tyrone Roberts were being considered for a game to take advantage of the NRL team’s weekend off.
The NSW Rugby League received Mason’s clearance papers from his last rugby league club, English Super League outfit Hull Kingston Rovers, on Thursday night.
But the Herald has been told the NSWRL would have granted Mason a special exemption to play tomorrow even if Hull KR had not cleared him in time.
A large media contingent is expected to cover Mason’s first game in Knights colours, and first game in Australia since he came off the bench in North Queensland’s 18-8 loss to his former club, Sydney Roosters, at Dairy Farmers Stadium on September 4, 2010.
The game starts at 12.45pm tomorrow as the first leg of a NSW Cup double-header.
Illawarra’s coach, Paul McGregor, who was on the coaching and conditioning staff of some of the NSW teams Mason played in last decade, said the Cutters would try to ‘‘keep him honest’’.
‘‘We’ve got to challenge him on every play if he hasn’t played rugby league for a long time,’’ McGregor said.
‘‘He’s infectious, the big fella. He gets everyone excited and he has a presence that brings confidence to people around him.
‘‘Willie was unwanted for a long period of time and he was a quality player for a number of years ... so when you’re on your last chance and you want to extend beyond this year, you’ve got to go out there and prove it to the group.’’
Smiles said Naiqama, who has not played since tearing knee cartilage in Newcastle’s 24-10 loss to Brisbane five weeks ago, has been cleared to resume playing.
He said the coaching staff were still deciding whether former Panthers and Tigers prop Daine Laurie joins fellow bad boys Mason and Albert Kelly in the NSW Cup team tomorrow, or plays another Newcastle Rugby League game for Macquarie Scorpions.
After being hampered by a foot injury for the past two months, Laurie starred in Macquarie’s 30-0 shut-out of Port Stephens last Sunday.
The Scorpions host Central, who Kelly is contracted to, at Peacock Field at 3pm today.
‘‘Daine is still in the mix but we might just consider him for one more run in the local comp,’’ Smiles said last night.
● Knights prop Korbin Sims has been ruled out of Queensland’s under-20 side for the NYC Origin game against NSW at Centrebet Stadium tonight.
Sims broke his finger in Newcastle’s NYC game against Canterbury four weeks ago and has not been cleared to return.