Off the Wall

The very mixed, and in places hostile, reaction to the signing of Willie Mason by the North Queensland Cowboys in the club's heartland is not surprising.

Willie Mason has for some years been a player Maroons fans love to hate - and he has hardly been reticent in being provocative.

But that said, it is really in Willie Mason's own hands to get the fan base behind him. And all the off field PR stunts, and genuine events and activities, won't do it - only his on field performance between now and the end of the 2010 season can.

If Mason can bring to the Cowboys the skill he certainly once possessed all will be forgiven - if not, his time in the north will not be a happy experience.

One suspects that the Cowboys fans have not set the cross bar that high. The club under performed last year, and attendances dropped off as a result. But it retains a strong fan base stretching from Mackay to Cape York and west to Mt Isa, and its sponsorship list still looks impressive.

But the patience of fans is not without limits.

If Mason can help get the Cowboys into the finals he will win the backing of most Cowboys fans - though a few diehards will never embrace him.

What is of even more interest to Cowboys fans - and sponsors - is the future of Johnathan Thurston. The way negotiations have dragged on must be causing the Cowboys management some sleepless nights.

His post-2010 career seems very much up in the air. Thurston's own comments at the very least indicate he is looking at possibilities outside the Cowboys, and the NRL.

He may well sign on with the Cowboys, but you would not put your house on it!

Willie Mason may believe he is going to escape the Sydney media's ever-present scrutiny in North Queensland. Not so - modern communications, led by the phone camera, will mean one step out of line will hit the headlines in Brisbane and Sydney almost as soon as he slips up. If he slips up!

But if he keeps on the straight and narrow, and puts some starch into the Cowboys forwards pack, he may end up being an unlikely hero in the north.

And who would have thought that possible even a few months ago?