As I write this, Willie Mason is getting ready to play the first Rugby Union game of his life. The previous conversion record for a Rugby League players to switch codes, play a game and walk into a Rugby Union representative team had been held by Iestyn Harris at 11 days.
Mason has walked straight into the Barbarians team. A record that can be matched, but never broken.
I found it interesting the different reactions to news that Mason had signed a rich deal to play Rugby Union in France.
In Australia it was a bit of a side note. Masons NRL career was over last season and once he left the North Queensland Cowboys he basically became a former Rugby League player as far as NRL fans were concerned.
In England, it was very different. They saw him as a big name that failed to live up to the hype they had created for him. They hated him, he was arrogant, and when he was de-registered by Hull KR, and then went to sign a massive Rugby Union contract, they English Rugby League fans acted like a jilted lover!
Mason was signed by Hull KR without a visa in place. The club knew that at the time. When Mason arrived in Hull, he had not played a competitive game of football since August 2010 and had spend all of that time training on his own in local parks.
Even so, Mason gained Hull KR more attention then they have ever received and the club lapped it up with special appearances over the first couple of weeks of his arrival.
Hull KR got exactly what they paid for. Nothing more, nothing less. Mason did nothing wrong by the club or the game in England.
Mason tried hard to get the visa that would have allowed him to circumvent the import rules (To the advantage of Hull KR!) and unfortunately, it just didn’t come through. That was through no fault of Masons.
So when Masons Tongan visa didn’t come through, Hull KR de-registered him. There have been suggestions that the club now owes Mason money.
Sitting on the sidelines, and possibly with contract money promised to him drying up, Mason looked elsewhere and hit the jackpot. He found a French Rugby Union club that was willing to pay him a kings ransom to play for them.
Willie Mason is a 31 year old Rugby League forward, who’s career in Australia and New Zealand had ended. He was facing playing out his career in England…..and along comes a huge offer from Rugby Union to extend his career.
How can you blame the bloke for taking the money?
A two year contract with an option for a third year, that will push him close to his 34th birthday, up against, maybe, securing a transfer to another Super League club.
Good luck to him! He won lotto! I’m happy for him!
That is why the response by the majority of English Rugby League fans is so strange to me.
I think it comes back to what the game in England is build upon….ego.
Where as in Australia and New Zealand the driving force comes from what you are trying to achieve, in England the driving force is to win, and then beat your chest about winning, and then talk about how you won and how good you are, and throw it in everyone else’s face at every chance you can get.
Its why long serving Super League players get asked about the number of trophies they have won, while long serving NRL players don’t.
I think after embracing Willie Mason, a player English fans still see as iconic, and then having him head off to France with great fanfare, to a better life, earning much more money, it was a real blow to the English Rugby League ego.
Good luck to Willie Mason in his Rugby Union career. There is no doubt he will be a success.
As for all of the snide remarks from English Rugby League fans….do you honestly think Willie Mason cares?