Off the Wall

I know players often deny they read newspapers, but here's hoping the great majority have broken that rule in the off season, and have taken a close interest in Willie Mason's travails!

For if they do, we just might have a season in which off field incidents actually decline.

Regardless of one's views about Willie Mason - and few players in the modern game have been more polarising among fans - he is deserving of some sympathy today, some, but not too much!

It is apparent the Roosters don't want him, and won't have him. It is equally apparent that decision is largely unrelated to the arrival of Brian Smith as coach. It seems to be more a Roosters board and management decision.

The Roosters basically told him to look elsewhere - and encouraged him to search out opportunities in rugby in Japan which ended up amounting to nothing. He was also encouraged to check out other NRL clubs. One media outlet ran the story that he was certain to sign with the Melbourne Storm. The denial from Storm management could not have been more emphatic.

Then the Manly Sea Eagles were reported as being at the very least highly likely to sign Mason - and that the key players were strongly in favour. Then there seemed to have been a very negative fans reaction - so that idea bit the dust as well.

The latest suggestion - and probably the last resort for Willie Mason - is the North Queensland Cowboys. If you looked at the 16 NRL clubs, you would probably regard the Cowboys as the least likely to be interested in him. Not so, apparently.

So why is Mason deserving some sympathy?

There are any number of players who will be taking part in the NRL premiership this year who have worse, and some significantly worse, off field records than Willie Mason.

In fact, if actual court appearances and guilty verdicts are the benchmark, then Willie Mason is in a significantly better position than half a dozen I could name.

His problem seems to be one of "guilt by association". He has to live with that. It has certainly set back his career and probably his pay packet over the years.

But is he such a pariah that just about every NRL club won't touch him? Seems so!

Now there are salary cap factors at play, but it seems that Mason and his manager are relying on his income being boosted third party arrangements that are salary cap exempt. But as has been shown time and time again, such arrangements are not easy to negotiate.

If the Cowboys cannot reach an agreement that gives him income outside the salary cap restraints, there is every chance he will not be playing anywhere in 2010 - and certainly not in the NRL.

Fair? Not when you look at the second, third and fourth chances a number of players guaranteed a role in the NRL in 2010 have been given!

And players reading the newspapers? If they have been they just might wake up to the fact that Willie Mason's career NRL thread hangs by a gossamer thread not just because of off field issues - but perceptions about him.

True, players might also regard the fact that players such as Paul Bird, Tim Smith and Todd Carney have been given multiple chances - but they might just come to the view that if someone like Willie Mason can end up virtually unwanted, the risk is not worth it!