Monday magistrate: We need more like big Willie Mason

HE'S been tagged everything from a big mouth to a numbskull, but no one could ever accuse Willie Mason of being dull.

Mason is simply one of those players who commands judgement of his character.

And while he might be some of the above at times, sadly Big Willie is a dying breed - and not just because he is the second-oldest player in the NRL.

His ilk faces inevitable extinction because most players are now too scared to speak their mind.

I'm not talking about grubby text messages or tasteless tweets either - I'm talking about good, honest appraisals.

In most professional sports, players have become grey, not willing to voice an opinion for fear of bringing their sport into disrepute.

And in a week where Big Willie did air some thoughts - most with his tongue firmly in his cheek - we had two great examples of others finally using a tongue they had obviously been biting for some time.

In his just-released autobiography, cricket great Sachin Tendulkar waited 24 years and 200 Tests before openly criticising people closely tied to his career, including a number of Aussies.

And reinstated Knights coach Rick Stone paused until Wayne Bennett had left Newcastle before aiming a few barbs at the master coach.

Not so Willie Mason. During his 14 seasons at the top level of rugby league he has never shied away from a controversial comment - much of it foolish, but generally harmless.

My most vivid memory of a Willie-ism was at half-time in the Broncos-Bulldogs grand final qualifier of 2006. The Dogs led 20-6 at half-time and I was one of those who, walking up the tunnel at the break, heard the big bloke yell 'we're going to the grand final'.

Sadly for Willie the Broncos went on to win that game 37-20 and beat Melbourne in the grand final the following week.

But there are endearing memories of the big bloke too.

Win, lose or draw, he was almost always first into the Broncos change rooms after a game. And his kindness to the less privileged, such as Wayne Bennett's disabled son Justin, was a genuine tugger of the heart strings.

Next season, Mason will play for Manly, his fifth NRL club.

And in his first interview as a Sea Eagle he didn't disappoint when it came time for some quotable quotes.

He is 'dumfounded' Newcastle let him go when he was the best forward they had; he will bring mongrel and intimidation to Manly; political correctness has gone too far; NRL boss Dave Smith is a good bloke and on the right track; and while Geoff Toovey might appear intense, he is actually 'a cruisy guy'.

Willie though, saved his best 'til last. When asked what he liked about Manly he said the beaches and the cafes, but definitely not the crappy Brookvale Oval surface.

Welcome to Willie World.

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