It seems incredible, but Willie Mason says he doesn’t feel any fear when he walks onto the NRL field.
Mason was playing alongside Alex McKinnon when the Newcastle prop broke his neck against Melbourne Storm last year.
But despite the horror of that night, Mason isn’t worried about getting hurt himself.
The front-rower feels rule changes and a lack of genuine hard men have taken most of the danger out of the game.
When Mason, 34, was coming through the ranks following his debut in 2000, players were always wary of the enforcers – men like Adrian Morley and Gorden Tallis.
He said the game had not gone soft, but the banning of the shoulder charge and the crackdown on high tackles meant he was no longer afraid of being “smashed”.
“Ten years ago there was a lot of fear factor in the game,” said Mason, who has vowed to bring a hard edge to his new club Manly’s pack this season.
“You had to watch out for your Adrian Morleys and your Shane Webckes and Gorden Tallis and Sonny Bill (Williams) and Roy Asotasi and all these guys.
“You take the shoulder charge out and all these other rules and you’re really not concerned about getting hit that hard.
“I’m 6’6″ and 120 kilos, I’m not really worried about anyone smashing me.”
He said with the departure of Williams, Sam Burgess and Ben Te’o to rugby union, the NRL had lost three of its last remaining enforcers.
He predicted South Sydney would slip back a bit this year following the loss of Burgess and Te’o after the club provided the blueprint in 2014 with their hard-hitting style.
“Sam Burgess led them brilliantly. He was one of them players that brought a lot of fear, so did Sonny Bill and so did Ben Te’o,” Mason said.
“But they’re gone now … Souths have lost Sammy and he’s probably the best forward in the world in rugby league so they’re probably going to come back to the pack.
“The competition is going to be so even. You don’t know, every game is going to be so hard and physical, you just don’t know what’s going to happen.’
“Canberra could come from nowhere and start winning and the Knights could do that, Parramatta can do whatever they want.”
– with AAP