Catalans Dragons v Leeds Rhinos: Combustible Willie Mason set to wreak havoc in latest colourful chapter

Australian superstar signing Willie Mason is welcomed by Hull KR fans at Craven Park in 2011. (PICTURE: TERRY CARROTT)
Australian superstar signing Willie Mason is welcomed by Hull KR fans at Craven Park in 2011. (PICTURE: TERRY CARROTT)
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GIVEN his chequered history, no one will quite believe the controversial Willie Mason is definitely going to be a Catalans Dragons player until the erstwhile Australia prop actually makes his debut.

That could perhaps be tonight when Leeds Rhinos – who have myriad issues of their own – line-up at Stade Gilbert Brutus desperate to finally get their season up and running.

Adam Cuthbertson

Adam Cuthbertson

If Mason, the combustible forward who infamously floored Great Britain prop Stuart Fielden during a Test game 10 years ago, does take to the field – and he has been named in the 19-man squad – everyone knows what he will bring to the contest.

Physicality, raw power, a lingering hint of chaos, a decent bit of sledging and always the potential for that short-fuse temper to light.

Leeds prop Adam Cuthbertson knows the veteran forward well having played alongside Mason at Newcastle Knights for three years between 2012 and 2014.

“He is a big thing,” he said, about the former Canterbury Bulldog and Sydney Rooster, who towers at six foot five inches and amassed 290 NRL games plus 24 Tests.

“He is a bit like Keith (Galloway, Rhinos’ ex-Wests Tigers prop) and he’s not an easy one to put down when he gets going.

“He is definitely a big task for us and will be good for Catalans.

“I am not too sure what happened the last time he was in Super League.

“I know he ended up going to rugby union, but I’m not sure what the story was.

“But I think he will go all right in that team they’ve got at the moment.

“They’ve got a lot of players who are influenced by the NRL.

“He is a senior player and he has got a lot of experience, so he will be good to have in the team.”

Mason, of course, dallied briefly with Super League in 2011 when he arrived amid much fanfare at Hull KR.

He played just six games and was then gone – apparently due to his inability to secure a Tongan passport and get off Rovers’ overseas quota – just as quickly to Toulon’s rugby union club in France.

That jaunt did not last long either but he is now back in France with Catalans where the player, a New South Wales State of Origin regular who won the 2004 NRL Grand Final with Canterbury Bulldogs, is hoping to enjoy a career swansong.

Mason, who arrived on a 12-month deal from Manly, has plenty of familiar faces around him in Perpignan given the Dragons had already signed four NRL stars in the off-season.

Former Australia colleague Glenn Stewart, Queensland State of Origin second-row David Taylor and Kiwi international Justin Horo, also a team-mate at Manly, have all brought plenty of bite to Catalans’ pack.

Pat Richards on the wing is well-known here for his prolific stint with Wigan.

Defending champions Leeds, meanwhile, are still awaiting their first win this season at the fourth attempt. They lost in the league against Warrington and Widnes Vikings before being over-run 38-4 in the World Club Challenge against North Queensland Cowboys on Sunday night.

Their nagging injury concerns show no sign of abating while Mitch Garbutt, another Australian prop, starts a two-game ban this evening for the red card he received for punching against Cowboys in that fixture.

Also standing at six foot five inches, Mason will have someone his own size to deal with tonight – Ireland international prop Anthony Mullally.

“Anthony had a good run last weekend (in the World Club Challenge),” said Cuthbertson, when the former Huddersfield prop made his debut.

“He didn’t get many minutes, but he is a humongous man, he hits hard and he is hard to stop.

“He will be good for us. We have got a good bit of depth in the forwards.

“Obviously we’ve got a few injuries at the moment, but I think Mitch is a good player and Josh Walters will get a bit more game time in the coming weeks.

“He’s great too. He gets better and better every time I see him play.

“He is great for us and I am sure he will fill the void.”

Mitch Achurch and Jordan Baldwinson are the latest forwards set to be called upon today ready for Catalans – and Mason.