THURSDAY NIGHT RUGBY! SEE THE NORTH HARBOUR RAYS VS MELBOURNE RISING
By Dean Ritchie - http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/sport/nrl/story/0,26746,26300326-5003409,00.html
HE HAS always polarised rugby league opinion and Willie Mason's potential move to Japanese rugby is no different.
Rugby identities offered vastly differing views last night on whether the Sydney Roosters forward would succeed in a new sport.
Mason returns to Sydney Roosters' training on Monday after spending a week in Japan negotiating with three clubs, one believed to be the Sanyo Wild Knights, who are based in Ota City, about two hours north of Tokyo.
Nathan Grey, a 35-Test Wallaby centre playing in Japan for Kyushu-based Kyuden, claimed Mason would fail miserably and look to quit the game after just three weeks.
However, others insist Mason would be a smash hit.
Despite Mason turning 30 in April and having never played rugby union, Eddie Jones, Willie Ofahengaue and Sam Harris - who have all played or coached in Japan - believe he would trample his smaller Japanese opponents.
"If Willie wants to play and is serious, he would be absolutely sensational,'' said Jones, who is an adviser to the Suntory club.
"He can carry the ball, he can tackle and is a proven State of Origin player. If you can play State of Origin, you can play rugby union at a high level - and Japan isn't the highest level.''
Asked if Mason's dubious off-field record would work against him, Jones said: "I think it would, but I think a club would possibly take that risk. The two league guys that came over her, [former Sharks] Fraser Anderson and Dustin Cooper, have done very well. Things go in fads in Japan and rugby league is the 'in' at the moment.''
However, Grey has blasted Mason's attempt to switch codes.
"He will be here for three weeks, find some reason to get out of his contract and go back to league having robbed someone else of an amazing opportunity in Japan,'' Grey said.
"It would take at least one season for him to get his head around rugby.
"And he would undoubtedly blame everyone else for not teaching him quickly enough, the rules are too hard, too confusing, and the game should be easier, people here made him feel unwelcome, he misses his family, or find some excuse to hide behind other than making an effort to learn the game.
"He could be a decent lineout jumper, a ball-running back-rower, and hopefully a decent defender, but rugby is too much of a team game for this bloke.
"Good players do a stack of things you never see and never get praised, but it's not really up his alley to do things for others and not expect anything in return.
"If some company over here is silly enough to pay him what his manager is asking then good luck to him ... I just don't get it.''
Despite being new to the game, there is little doubt Mason would cause havoc in Japan.
Harris, who played in the NRL for Manly and Wests Tigers before a stint with Honda Heat, had little doubt Mason would be devastating.
"They look for big blokes who can run over some of the little blokes over there. Willie would fit the bill,'' Harris said.
"He might find it hard with the technical side, especially when it's in a different language, but he would be damaging when he gets the ball, although that mightn't be much. The clubs over there are looking for players who can crush the smaller guys.''
Ofahengaue added: "He'd be a big hit over there even given his lack of union knowledge. The standard is not as high as Sydney club rugby so it wouldn't take long for him to fit in. He'd enjoy the different lifestyle and the chance to be out of the spotlight. I've seen him play on television and he's got good ball skills.''
For a reminder of just how good 'Greysie' was ... click below.