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A year older, a year wiser for Mason

By Laine Clark 15/04/2010 06:46:10 PM Comments (0)

In 30 years, Willie Mason has arguably crammed in more than many fail to pull off in a lifetime.

Cynics may debate the merits of those experiences, but the former NRL bad boy admitted on his 30th birthday he "feels like 20" as he prepared for North Queensland's crunch NRL clash at Newcastle on Saturday night.

Indeed a rejuvenated Mason appears to epitomise the term "a year older, a year wiser" after grabbing an NRL lifeline at the Cowboys.

"It doesn't feel any different to when I was 20 I reckon," Mason said.

"Except for a lot more life experiences and stuff like that I have been through which have probably made me a stronger person - but it's good to make 30 I reckon."

All eyes are on Mason as the Cowboys look to negotiate a tricky period without injured trio Johnathan Thurston, Aaron Payne and Matt Bowen, plus suspended forward Luke O'Donnell, starting with their showdown with the Knights.

And the 24-Test, 13-Origin veteran appears up for the challenge against a Newcastle outfit welcoming back their inspirational captain Kurt Gidley from injury.

Criticised in the past as a disruptive influence at previous clubs the Bulldogs and the Roosters, Mason oozed captaincy material on Thursday as he discussed the challenge ahead for North Queensland.

The only time he looked thrown was when his press conference was suddenly disrupted to present a chocolate birthday cake to the tune of "Happy Birthday Big Willie".

"You are embarrassing me," Mason laughed.

Mason is thought to be one of the leadership options being considered by coach Neil Henry to fill in for Thurston, along with prop Matt Scott and Origin centre Willie Tonga during their current crisis.

Being handed the captaincy would cap a remarkable transformation by Mason - and he clearly relished the prospect.

"I was just talking to Willie Tonga and we are both excited about having that leadership role within the team," he said.

"He (Tonga) is excited and relishing the opportunity to get out there and step up, and I said to him 'so am I'.

"I am in a good place now. I feel good. I feel confident that I can do the job."

While welcoming the extra responsibility, Mason said it's up to their experienced pack to lead from the front against the Knights - especially with youngster Ray Thompson and recalled Grant Rovelli slotted into the halves.

"Because we have young halves I think the forwards have to take it upon themselves with leadership," Mason said.

"(But) I don't think many of us are really caring about the captaincy.

"If we can just hold the fort for two or three weeks and wait for those boys to come back and jag a few wins, that will put us in good stead."

Meanwhile, Henry was confident they would soon have off contract star Thurston's signature following rumours the Test half was considering a switch to French rugby.

"We are very close to the deal being done," Henry told Fox Sports.

"It is very positive that he will stay at the club and (Cowboys boss) Peter Parr is going to meet with (Thurston's manager) Sammy Ayoub and Johnathan next week to finalise the thing."

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