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Willie still wants to be an All Black
After gushing with pride over a State of Origin selection he had all but given up on, Bulldogs prop Willie Mason admitted he had not ruled out turning his back on rugby league.
Mason capped off a remarkable reversal of fortune when he accepted only his second New South Wales jersey from rugby league greats at a special presentation to the Blues team on Tuesday.
But just minutes after receiving his cherished sky blue jersey, Mason said his "long term goal" was to wear the All Blacks colours.
"Yeah, rugby is a long term goal for sure. It's just speculation at the moment but they (New Zealand Rugby) were interested," he said.
"But I've got two years at the `Dogs so I can't get out of my contract or anything like that.
"I'm obligated to play there for two more years and I am happy there, hopefully this year we can go all the way."
Mason has played seven tests but only tasted Origin for NSW once when picked for the Blues last year.
And Mason thought his representative days were over when no Bulldogs players were named in the Test squad earlier this year following the NRL club's Coffs Harbour scandal.
Mason was even told he was "on the nose" with selectors after being in the news for all the wrong reasons.
But he was given the benefit of the doubt by Country coach Ricky Stuart for the annual Origin selection clash against City on May 7 - and didn't look back.
"I did think about it. I don't usually let stuff get to me that easy," Mason said of the speculation.
"I did think it once that my rep days were over, but I then I thought I would just back my own ability to try and get back into these sides and getting my foot in that Country side was that first step.
"I missed out on a couple of rep sides during the year, missing the Australian side was disappointing.
"It's good to be back, I would just like to thank Ricky Stuart from giving me the opportunity in City-Country to show selectors I can play at this level."
The New Zealand-born 195cm, 115kg forward paid tribute to Stuart's influence on his representative resurgence.
"I played with Ricky toward the back end of his career but to actually get coached by him was a different thing - he's so intense, you just see why the Roosters are the benchmark of the comp just by the way he trains," he said.
Mason said emerging from the Coffs Harbour affair with a Blues jersey made his NSW call-up all the more sweeter.
"It does and also for (Bulldogs teammates) Andrew Ryan, Mark O'Meley and Steve Price also being picked," he said.
"We've all been through hell and back over the last three months so it was great to get a few boys in the side.