Willie Mason has heard more boos than cheers throughout his drama-filled career, but importantly it was a rousing reception he received in Newcastle for his NRL return.
“It was a bit different,” Mason said.
“I’m a Newcastle boy at heart. I’m from Newcastle, and usually when I do play up here I get booed a lot which is in most cases anyway, at any ground.”
The game’s human headline is still larger than life, still loves a laugh, but most importantly after a year away from the NRL – Mason says his love for the game and drive to succeed is alive again.
Mason said he couldn’t have written a better script as the Knights recorded a 34-14 win over Penrith.
He couldn’t escape the deluge of media reports and personal text messages from friends building up to his comeback, and he admitted to experiencing some unusual emotions before kick-off at Hunter Stadium on Monday night.
After 20 minutes of action, yielding six runs, 47 metres, eight tackles, a tackle break and an offload, Mason returned to the bench to ice a sore hamstring.
“That first hit-up, I think I just came out of the blocks too hard, I was too keen, should have knocked it back a gear,” he said.
But what he lacked in game time, Mason made up for after fulltime as he continued to reconnect with where it all began.
The Newcastle junior was the last to leave the sheds, signing autographs for kids from his former club Toronto Macquarie.
“Usually I try to block it out (the crowd), but it was a bit hard and it was a bit emotional,” he said.
“Always as a kid I thought I was going to be a Knight.
“I never really wanted to leave and it was a bit surreal running out with the Knights colours on. I know how proud Newcastle boys are because I am a Newcastle boy.”
And after all the drama Mason has been through since his debut way back in 2000, he might have finally found the coach who knows how to handle him. Post-match, Wayne Bennett summed things up nicely when asked about Mason’s performance.
“Oh Willie will tell me his thoughts (on how he went),” said Bennett.