NEXT WILLIE: Rodney MasonIF bloodlines and DNA count for anything, the Newcastle Knights have a couple of young tyros ready to follow in famous footsteps next season.
Rodney Mason, brother of Willie, and Kyle O’Donnell, brother of Luke, are members of Newcastle’s extended pre-season squad and hope their hard yards over summer will be rewarded in the 2012 NRL campaign.
Mason has graduated to senior ranks after two seasons in Newcastle’s under-20s in which he established himself, like his colourful elder sibling, as a towering prop or second-rower.
At 191 centimetres and 109 kilograms, he is not quite as big as Willie (196cm and 115kg) but nonetheless casts a formidable shadow in his own right.
O’Donnell, 21, joined Newcastle last season from Cronulla, but his hopes of getting a taste of NRL action were cruelled by a succession of frustrating injuries.
Like Luke, he is a powerful back-rower (189cm, 102kg) who represented the Junior Kangaroos in 2010.
Both youngsters realise they will in all likelihood start the season in Newcastle’s NSW Cup team and have to bide their time behind an array of established forwards.
But having admired their own flesh and blood at NRL, Origin and Test level, the dream of following a similar path provides powerful motivation.
‘‘He’s pretty much kept me going all these years, made me want it even more because of him,’’ Mason said yesterday.
‘‘Because of what he’s done, and how far he’s made it, I want to be like him.
‘‘I just want to make that step.’’
Likewise, O’Donnell said his big brother had been his inspiration for as long as he could remember.
‘‘I’m pretty tight with both my brothers,’’ he said.
‘‘Luke left for Townsville when I was only 13, which made it hard . . . but he’s been somebody I’ve always looked up to.
‘‘It’s been pretty handy to have a role model that close to me.’’
O’Donnell arrived in Newcastle 12 months ago with high expectations, but torn elbow ligaments, a fractured sternum, an infection in his ear and jaw and a strained calf sabotaged his plans.
‘‘I had a pretty unfortunate year with injuries, which hindered me playing consistent footy throughout the year,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m hoping to turn that around this year and get as many first-grade games as I can under my belt . . . I think I learned a lot last year.
‘‘I got a bit of experience in NSW Cup towards the end of the year, so I did draw some positives out of it.’’
Mason said he was relishing training under new coach Wayne Bennett and high-performance manager Jeremy Hickmans, even if it was ‘‘the hardest pre-season I’ve ever done’’.
He was hopeful the hard yakka would pay dividends when the season kicked off.
‘‘To make my debut, that’s my goal,’’ he said.
‘‘Hopefully I can achieve it.’’
Luke O’Donnell and Willie Mason were negotiating with Newcastle in 2010.
Both players teamed up at North Queensland before heading to England and France to play out their careers.
‘‘He was tossing up between Newcastle and Huddersfield,’’ O’Donnell said.
‘‘It would have been nice for him to come here, but it would have made more competition for me, I guess.’’
Mason said he was ‘‘pretty keen’’ for Willie to sign with Newcastle two years ago when he parted company with the Roosters.
‘‘I thought it was going to happen,’’ he said. ‘‘I was pretty excited for a while, but it was his decision.’’