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Another tough training session has just finished at Knights HQ and the players disperse for some much needed rest and recovery.

Most of the squad slowly gravitate towards the ice baths, the rehab room or the kitchen to fuel up with food.

Willie Mason, though, takes a different path.

Relaxed and in his usual jovial mood, Mason is sitting outside surrounded by a group of school kids. 

The veteran bookend takes the time to talk to the children and answer all their inquisitive questions.   

From what it's like to be an NRL player through to discussion about superheroes and skateboards, Mason is in his element chatting with the youngsters.  

"So who is your favourite superhero kids?," Mason asks with a smile.

“What about the original Captain America?

“No, you guys wouldn’t remember him.”

It's a response that's lost on the kids given their age, but it doesn't matter because they're loving Mason's company.

The Knights' big man is enjoying himself too, a fact that's written all over his face as he laughs and jokes with the children.    

This is a side that you wouldn’t normally see from the outspoken prop who has polarised people over the years.

Unlike others though, Mason is not doing countless hours of community work to prove a point or show everyone he is a good bloke.

No, he has a genuine passion for working with kids. 

In fact, Mason admits it was a major reason why he returned home to Newcastle to finish his career. 

"Being from Newcastle I knew that the Club was based on the community," he says.

"It was one of those rare clubs that was founded by the community and we do a lot of work with the people.

"I’ve had the opportunity now to be really hands on with a lot of stuff.

"But having access to the John Hunter Children's Hospital and doing a lot of things is something that I don’t really want recognition for.

"You know, with visiting kids or talking to kids or mentoring kids.

"That’s just something that I enjoy doing and something that I’m passionate about because where I grew up wasn’t the most pleasant place.

"It was commission house area and the area hasn’t even changed.

"You know, I drive through there now and it still hasn’t changed since I was a young kid."

It's why Mason regularly heads out to his hometown suburb to talk to the local kids about how to rise above setbacks and chase their dreams.

You see, the former Origin and Test star wants to make a difference by inspiring others with his personal story of success. 

"I try and get out there and talk to the local kids a fair bit," he says. 

"I also do a bit of work with the Salvation Army and they do a lot of things with alcohol, drugs, homeless and addicts. 

"And I just go out there and have a chat to most of the people and just talk and listen.

"I don’t judge anybody and I find it pretty gratifying knowing that I come from that area and I made it out of that area.

"So now I can put a little bit back in.

"You know, some people just do things to get a good image and all that.

"But I don’t really care for it.

"A lot of the people that do know me and know that I do it, have got a total different perception to what everyone else has." 

Mason believes his work in the community also gives him plenty of perspective. 

He is first to admit that reality gets lost sometimes in the busy world of professional football, but that soon changes with a visit to the local hospital or hostel.  

"I actually enjoy getting out in the community, there are a lot of good people out there," he says.

"You can get caught in this footy rut but then you go out into the real world and go to the Salvation Army and all these guys are genuinely nice.

"And that’s what really struck me, I was like wow, ‘these are genuinely nice people who want to do things without bagging anyone or wanting something from you.

"I really found that.

"Whenever you thought your life was a bit hard, and I’ve been through a few dramas, to put things in perspective you just have to go walking into a children’s ward.

"Then you look at yourself and you just realise how stupid you’ve been."

Mason has played with five clubs in 13 years, but he says he always wanted finish his career with the Knights. 

As a proud Novocastrian himself, he believes the Club's working-class culture made it the perfect place to round out his playing days in style.   

"I think coming home was always going to happen," he says about linking with Newcastle.

"I grew up here and when I was in the south of France playing rugby I was hoping that it would work it.

"Because I did speak to Wayne (Bennett) when I just got back and this was the club that I wanted to go to.

"I knew I was going to end up here, because I know what playing for Newcastle takes.

"I know what the crowd expect and I know what the community expects from you.

"I think with Newcastle you know you are representing not just yourself, but your family and a massive community."

So what does the future hold for Mason?

He admits retirement has crossed his mind, but he'll only hang up the boots if he losses his passion and drive.

At this stage that hasn't happened, so he is happy to play on until it changes. 

"But if I turn up to a game and not really feel like competing, I’ll quit," he says frankly.

"I’ll know then and I’ll just say, ‘I’ve had enough’.

"I’m not the sort of player that’s going to hold some young kid back and take someone’s spot.

"I just don’t want to be that sort of dude and I’d rather just slip off into the sunset.”

Until then though, Mason is more than content to continue and give his best both on-and-off the field.