Willie Mason named to start for Cowboys - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Willie Mason named to start for Cowboys

By Laine Clark 20/04/2010 07:23:13 PM Comments (0)

Once considered a spent force, ex-NRL bad boy Willie Mason has emerged as the form gauge at North Queensland as the Cowboys prepare for their "crucial" Friday night clash with the Eels.

But the feedback wasn't so hot for under-fire forwards Antonio Kaufusi and Manase Manuokafoa as Cowboys coach Neil Henry predictably wielded the axe following their "embarrassing" 36-18 last round loss in Newcastle.

Mason makes his run-on debut for the Cowboys after Henry insisted his best 13 will start the game in a bid to arrest their worrying run of poor starts.

"His impact off the bench has been tremendous for us (but) we probably need our best team on the field to start now," Henry said on Tuesday.

The Cowboys are already warming to the thought of starting talks with Mason to extend his season-long deal, following his explosive start for the club.

But Henry made it clear he wanted to see much more before doing likewise with the experienced Kaufusi and Manuokafoa.

"Them coming here wasn't my sole choice, but there was expectations that those two players in particular would be playing regular first grade football," Henry said.

"But they would be the first to admit their performance haven't been what they should be - it will be up to them to turn it around.

"We have got a few decisions to make on our recruitment moving forward because we have a lot of players off contract."

The pair were cut along with ex-Queensland flyer Ty Williams and forward James Tamou after Henry injected Grant Rovelli, Michael Bani, Isaak Ah Mau, Steve Southern and Dale Hogan into an 18-strong squad.

Mason, Bani and Carl Webb have been named in the starting side while makeshift pivot Ash Graham moves back to the centres and Southern and Isaak Ah Mau return to the bench.

Hogan is in line to play his first NRL match for 2010.

Henry hoped an honesty session following a review of their Newcastle debacle would help turn it around against Parramatta.

"There's an attitude shift that we need, not a physical thing," Henry said.

"Once we believed in ourselves in the second half we made Newcastle very nervous - the players have talked about it amongst themselves.

"There's a lot of ownership there for the performance (in Newcastle) by the players - they know they weren't up to scratch.

"It will be up to the player group to rectify that and we get a chance on Friday night."

Henry stressed the Cowboys couldn't simply rely on Johnathan Thurston (shoulder), Aaron Payne (ankle) and Luke O'Donnell (suspension) to return to resurrect their NRL finals push.

"We know we have players coming back but we need to get some points when those players are out because the next two games are fairly crucial," he said.

"We've got two home games then two away games heading into the bye and into State of Origin - so it's a crucial time for us."

Henry also put the heat on experienced pivot Rovelli to fire after slotting into the halves with youngster Ray Thompson.

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