Play now, pay later for big Willie Mason

WILLIE Mason is in no rush to kick off contract talks with the Newcastle Knights, preferring instead to concentrate on continuing the form that should earn him a spectacular pay rise at the end of the season.

Mason has played five games for Newcastle – the past three as starting prop – since joining the club on a cut-price contract reported to be worth $40,000.

In his prime, the former Test forward was among the NRL’s top earners.

At 32, he no longer commands that type of elite-level cash but his bargaining position will increase with each dominant performance.

For now, Mason is happy to bide his time and focus on helping Newcastle turn their season around after four successive defeats.

Asked yesterday whether he was ready to begin negotiating with the club, Mason replied: ‘‘Not really. I’ve just got to keep building and playing better each week and those things will happen.

‘‘Hopefully I can extend here. I love it in Newcastle.

‘‘I’m a Newcastle boy. But I’m not even looking at that at the moment.

‘‘I’m just looking at getting the Knights back on track and getting some wins.’’

Mason, who spent 18months abroad playing for Hull Kingston Rovers and French rugby union outfit Toulon before joining Newcastle, said he was just starting to hit his straps after being eased back into action by Knights coach Wayne Bennett.

‘‘I’ve played five games now and it usually takes me that long to get match fit,’’ Mason said.

‘‘It’s a good time to start turning up ... Wayne’s done it well. I’ve been around the game a long time, but you can’t compensate for match fitness.

‘‘You need to keep playing, keep playing, doing the hard work, off the field, on the field.

‘‘It’s all coming together.’’

Statistics support Mason’s self-appraisal.

He has steadily increased his workload and in his past two games, against Gold Coast and Brisbane respectively, carried the ball 144 and 115metres in attack.

Knights playmaker Jarrod Mullen said the towering prop had been tremendous and was hopeful Mason would have a future in Newcastle beyond this season.

‘‘I think that’s what we needed, just a big fella to really rev up our forwards, with his talk on and off the field,’’ Mullen said.

‘‘He’s really been a leader in our pack ... I’d love to see him stay.

‘‘I don’t know how old he is. He’s getting on a bit, big Will.

‘‘But he’s playing some great footy and I’m sure he can run around for another couple of years.’’

Labelled a has-been by his critics, Mason said he had nothing to prove to anyone but himself and his teammates. He said there were no self-doubts before launching his NRL comeback.

‘‘No, I didn’t, otherwise I wouldn’t have made the decision to come back and put my head on the chopping block to get knocked back or all you blokes [the media] can just start smashing me up,’’ Mason said.

‘‘I didn’t doubt myself. Otherwise I’d be sitting in the south of France.’’

Mason and Mullen both said Saturday night’s home clash with Canberra was a ‘‘must-win’’ occasion for the Knights.

Already three wins adrift of the top eight, 13th-placed Newcastle will be in need of a miracle if they lose to Canberra, who are level with the Knights on points but have an inferior for-and-against record.

‘‘No one’s given up hope in this club,’’ Mason said.

‘‘It’s obviously the goal for every team in the NRL [to make the finals].

‘‘There are 12 games to go and we just have to win them all ... the competition is that tight, you could win three games in a row and you’re coming equal fifth or sixth.

‘‘I think we’re capable of doing that.

‘‘We can string some games together and take some momentum into the finals.’’

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