Willie Mason’s second Super League stint came to an end on Wednesday, as Catalans confirmed that they had agreed to release the international star.
A serious, season-ending injury accelerated Mason’s departure, with the Australia international ending his stint in Perpignan following 14 Super League appearances after suffering an avulsion fracture and ankle ligament tears.
Despite his renowned status in the game, Mason’s time at the Dragons was low-profile, keeping himself away from the media spotlight throughout while his performances often went unnoticed.
Many believe that, given the severity of his injury, Mason will now call time on his rugby league career. At the age of 36, it wouldn’t be a big surprise. However, there is still a role for him on the field if he decides to extend his career.
Mason is by no means at the level he was when going toe-to-toe with Stuart Fielden and Jamie Peacock ten years ago, nor is he at the level to be a leading forward for a major Super League club. However, there are plenty of attributes he brings to the table that could be valuable for a number of clubs in Super League.
Before even talking about matters on the field, Mason is a box office attraction. Voted as the most hated man in the NRL in 2007, Mason’s reputation makes him a crowd magnet. He is the personification of a ‘love to hate’ character, and you’d struggle to find anyone who plays the role better. Most importantly, however, he is loved by his own supporters.
On the field, while age has caught up with him somewhat, and his latest injury won’t help that, Mason is still the enforcer that so many teams lack.
Look at any Super League winning side, and there is one player that takes up the role that Mason has played superbly throughout his career. Terry O’Connor was part of the Wigan team that won the first Grand Final, Paul Anderson and Stuart Fielden played a huge role in Bradford’s dominance, while Ryan Bailey played the ‘Mason role’ at Leeds for years.
Mason would bring some much-needed nastiness to a number of Super League packs. Salford, despite recently strengthening their front-row with Luke Burgess and Feleti Mateo, could still bolster their ranks, while Huddersfield, who can thank their pack for their success over recent years, would benefit from another experienced head as they bring through promising forwards like Nathan Mason and Josh Johnson.
If Mason decides his body isn’t up to the rigours of Super League, a club like Toulouse, who will most probably earn promotion to the Championship, would surely be keen on a big name player to help usher in a new era at the club. There would likely be other suitors too.
His recent injury setback could well see him bring an end to his career, but Mason would still be useful to a number of clubs if he decided to play on.