Spruiking has never been a problem for Willie Mason. But the usually softly-spoken Wayne Bennett thought he’d talk up the re-born Newcastle forward anyway in Brisbane on Wednesday.
And NSW mentor Laurie Daley is listening.
Mason, 32, received a shock call-up in the 20-strong NRL All Stars squad for the February 9 season opener at Suncorp Stadium after coach Bennett included him as a “coach’s selection”.
Mason might also fall into the “coach’s favourite” category judging by Bennett, who could not hide his admiration for his larger-than-life Knights charge on Wednesday.
“I picked him on his football ability but he will help in the talking it up stakes,” Bennett laughed.
“He has trained great. He is as enthusiastic as I have ever seen him – this is a just reward for him.”
Mason better get used to surprises.
Indigenous All Stars coach Daley, who will hold the NSW State of Origin reins for the first time in 2013, revealed Mason was already in the mix for a Blues jersey – five years after the forward last played representative football.
“I spoke to Wayne before about Willie,” Daley said.
“He’s a player who adds experience and size and we could do with a bit more size in the front row for NSW.
“He’s a guy who needs to continually play well and, if he does, who knows what will happen?”
Mason has not looked back since being thrown a lifeline midway through last season, earning a two-year contract extension last November.
Once the NRL’s class clown, it seems Mason has become teacher’s pet at Newcastle under Bennett after earning the Coach’s Award at last year’s end-of-season presentation.
Bennett said Mason’s boxing training for last month’s charity bout against rugby union player Troy Flavell had ensured he would pick up where he left off from last year’s impressive comeback.
“To just come into the competition when everyone else had played seven or eight games, it was pretty impressive stuff,” he said.
Daley chose another comeback kid from the Knights, Timana Tahu, as one of his coach’s picks along with Canberra rookie Jack Wighton.
Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk was the other player added to the NRL All Stars squad by Bennett after South Sydney sensation Adam Reynolds was named at No.7 by an on-line fan poll.
“Once the team is picked, I can do whatever I want but Adam will start. The fans wanted that and I have been pretty respectful of that,” Bennett said.
The two squads were named after more than 40,000 fans voted on-line.
A representative from each of the 16 clubs must feature in the NRL All Stars but fans could pick from all of the competition’s indigenous talent for Daley’s team.
Wests Tigers star Benji Marshall will again captain the NRL All Stars, which features Billy Slater at fullback and Parramatta livewire Jarryd Hayne on the bench.
The Indigenous side is led by Queensland playmaker Johnathan Thurston and features an electric backline including Ben Barba, Justin Hodges, Greg Inglis and Blake Ferguson.