Big Willie aiming to floor Flavell
Willie Mason (photosport)
By Will Knight
Willie Mason has endured one of his toughest NRL pre-seasons in order to last three minutes of the opening round.
And three minutes of the second.
Then as many rounds as it takes to floor Troy Flavell.
Mason will line up for his boxing debut against the former All Blacks lock in Auckland next Saturday as part of the Fight for Life event.
The Newcastle backrower is well matched physically with Flavell, with both standing 196cm tall and tipping the scales at 119kg.
But Mason hopes his three-month preparation with boxing legend Jeff Fenech and his older brother Les will give him the edge tactically.
"I think Flav's got a big right hand," warned Mason, who has juggled Knights' off-season training with sparring and boxing-specific fitness.
"I've seen him throw it a few times in games so I'd better keep an eye out for that one.
"He's a pretty big dude. He's very aggressive, he's played at the top for a long time and I've got a lot of respect for him."
Mason isn't interested in trash talking 36-year-old Flavell, who played 22 Tests for New Zealand and is currently with French club Bayonne.
Punters will no doubt want to talk up the rugby league versus rugby union code rivalry or trans-Tasman battle, but Mason prefers to highlight that the event aims to raise about $200,000 for the NZ Prostate Cancer Foundation.
"It's more about the charity than anything," said Mason, whose father, Ian, died from the disease 15 years ago.
"Anything to do with cancer I normally put my hand up for.
"Hopefully at the end of the night we can sit down and have a beer and a laugh. It's not a world title fight."
The 32-year-old will be joined on the card by fellow NRL stars, with Paul Gallen facing a daunting task against Chiefs hooker Hika Elliot and Greg Bird shaping up against Auckland winger Rene Ranger.
Despite the charitable aspect of the night, Mason believes the fact personal pride is at stake will ensure a good spectacle.
"Some might take it easy until you cop a big overhand right," he said.
"No one is going to pussy foot around.
"I don't want to disrespect boxing by going in there and not giving it a fair crack."
While Mason says the next two years with the Knights is his No.1 priority, the former Kangaroos and NSW forward didn't rule out a shift to the ring post-playing days.
"I've got a footy career to take care," he said.
"(But) I'll probably get a gauge off this fight.
"The training has probably helped my footy fitness because I think boxing is probably one of the hardest sports in the world. That's why a lot of footballers do it."