Newcastle's Willie Mason on hunt for new club
Willie Mason is in the market for his fifth NRL club after learning that the Newcastle Knights do not intend to retain him beyond this season.
Fairfax Media understands Mason, who turns 35 in April, has been told that he does not feature in the plans of incoming coach Rick Stone for next year.
That decision was hardly unexpected, given that Stone hinted at a press conference on Monday announcing his appointment as Wayne Bennett's successor that it ''may not be possible'' to keep off-contract trio Mason, David Fa'alogo and Chris Houston.
Fa'alogo and Houston are still considered some chance of re-signing with Newcastle, but Mason, who has played in 57 games for his home-town club since his mid-season arrival in 2012, will have to make a fresh start elsewhere.
The former Test prop, who debuted for Canterbury in 2000, has played in 269 top-grade games for the Bulldogs, Roosters, North Queensland and Newcastle.
He also had a brief stint with Hull Kingston Rovers in the English Super League and with French rugby union outfit Toulon.
There are only four players in the NRL older than Mason - Lote Tuqiri, Fuifui Moimoi, Luke Bailey and Jeremy Smith - but the Toronto Scorpions junior insisted last week ''I'm not going to retire because I'm 34'' and signalled his intention to play for another two seasons.
''Yeah, I'll definitely play next year,'' Mason said on Foxtel's NRL 360 program.
''I'm just talking to a couple of clubs now, and hopefully Newcastle will get their act together . . . but if they want to go a different way, obviously there's some offers out there at the moment.
''I can change. I've played for five different clubs.
''I'm not a one-club man like Mini [retiring Roosters skipper Anthony Minichiello], so I've got no doubt that if Newcastle isn't the place for me, then I'll go somewhere else.''
Mason's agent, Sam Ayoub, did not reply to messages yesterday but said last week: ''Yes, Willie will be playing again next year, and we're in negotiations with two clubs about that as we speak. We're still waiting to hear where the Knights are at in regards to Willie, and I'll leave it at that for now.''
The Herald was told yesterday Knights chief executive Matt Gidley and Stone would be unavailable for comment.
There has been speculation linking Mason to St George Illawarra and Penrith, as well as suggestions he might follow departing coach Wayne Bennett to Brisbane.
Asked on Monday about Mason, Houston and Fa'alogo, Stone hinted that retaining all three was unlikely.
''They're three senior players that are obviously unsigned, and they're players that we need to talk about as a group and make some decisions on, going forward,'' Stone said.
'Once we get our cap position sorted out, and we understand what our priorities are as a club, they're all three great players and you'd probably like to keep them all at the club, but it may not be possible depending on where our position is in the cap when we finish this year.''
Mason is one of eight Knights players over the age of 30, along with Jeremy Smith, Fa'alogo, Clint Newton, Beau Scott and Timana Tahu and Matt Hilder.
Neither Tahu nor Hilder have featured in first grade this season, despite playing almost 400 NRL games between them.
No other club has as many 30-plus veterans as Newcastle. Last-placed Cronulla also had eight over-30s until this week, when long-serving utility john Morris announced his retirement.