As one of the game's most colourful characters, Willie Mason has always enjoyed an open relationship with scribe and supporter alike.
This frankness was on display in spades at the launch of RiseForAlex Round on Monday morning when the affable prop opened up about his fondness for injured teammate Alex McKinnon.
"People don't really understand," an emotional Mason told reporters.
"He is 22 and he is sitting in front of all the media and he is battling for his life and his wellbeing. But he is answering all these questions and it's a credit to him and the way that he was brought up his family.
"So I've got nothing but love for the kid. I ring him every day just to see how he is going. He keeps it real and so do I.
"We are realists. We talk about life, footy and every other thing."
Mason admits his teammates were initially fearful for McKinnon when he first injured, but they've since been hearted by his gradual improvements in recovery.
"The first week or two when they said he was never going to work again from the shoulders down, we were really shocked," he concedes.
"He told us all of that and we were really emotional about and we thought it was never going to happen.
"But then progressively he kept getting better and better and now he can move both arms and his neck.
"So he has come on in leaps and bounds."
Mason believes McKinnon's positivity and courage through adversity will now pave the way for other injured players to receive the support and guidance they deserve.
"He is a fighter and he is young, so if there is anyone who they are going to give a challenge to, then it should be Alex," he says frankly.
"He is going to be a pioneer for a lot of other kids like your Simon Dwyer’s at the Tigers and all the other guys who have been ruled out of the game through major injuries.
"The NRL never had that in place with the full insurance, but know they are going to do it because of Alex.
"I’m a massive believer in things happening for a reason and it sucks that Alex is that kid, but I think there is a high power there that has chosen him because he is such a strong kid."
Mason says he can't wait to play in front of his good mate McKinnon on Sunday.
"I thought the Cronulla game at the start of the year when it was the Rise For Alex game was really, really highly emotional for a lot of guys," he says.
"But this one against the Titans is probably going to be twice as emotional.
"I know in that circle where we were standing everyone was crying, so this weekend's game will just be the same."
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