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In this week’s issue of Big League magazine, Willie Mason opens up about how his time at Newcastle has changed his view on his role in teams.

By his own admission, Mason can be a good or a bad influence on the team-mates that look up to him. It just took him a while to realise it. After 12 years of first grade and a career of controversy, home truths from coach Wayne Bennett in 2012 finally showed just how motivating Mason’s unique character can be.

Handpicked by Bennett for his rock-solid confidence and extensive experience, the penny dropped for the former international and New South Wales forward who never thought of himself as a leader.

“Before (Wayne) did that, a lot of people were questioning my leadership at the Roosters and things were getting said. It really p’ed me off because I couldn’t control it,” Mason, now 34, tells Big League.

“I never question myself or my leadership skills, on or off the field. But I’ve learnt that I can either drag a team high or I can drag a team low depending on my actions. I didn’t really realise that until I got (to Newcastle).

“I was 32 and looking at guys that are 20 years old and realised I could be a bad or a good influence. Because I’ve been so strong-headed in my career with partying, drinking, smoking or whatever, I can control whatever I want to do but a lot of kids can’t.

“I never understood (that players can be impressionable) until Wayne said a few things and I suppose it just sort of dropped. When I started at the Bulldogs, my dad had died so I had no-one telling me what to do, I did it myself. I didn’t have anyone at 17 or 18 to tell me how to do things.”

For all his mistakes, Mason has never compromised his own integrity because he counts on himself and himself alone. Feeling his way through life and football.

“My goal at the Knights is to be one of the leading forwards and one of the players to bring this club up and to be one of Wayne’s guys to lead this club,” he says. “That’s a big responsibility when he puts that on you.”

Mason also spoke about his career and how achieving so much at such a young age left him at a loss as to what to do next and how now he’s found his way back to the top in rugby league, he’s ready to continue on as long as he can match it with the younger guys.

To read the full story, grab this week’s Big League with Willie on the front. Just $5, it’s available at newsagents, at the game and on Zinio, Apple Newsstand and Google Play.