When Alex McKinnon's parents walked into the room of Melbourne's Alfred Hospital that housed their comatose son on Tuesday, March 26, Newcastle teammate Korbin Sims was there to try and cushion the blow.
Through text messages overnight he had been trying to delicately warn them of the scene that they would be faced with as he sat by his bedside into the early hours of the morning, all from a tackle that went horribly wrong live on national television.
"The hardest thing was the next morning when Alex's parents and fiancée showed up. That was heartbreaking," Korbin tells NRL.com almost six months later. "I tried to warn them through texts during the night, saying that when they got there the next morning he was going to have wires hanging off him and a tube down his throat so to be ready for it.
"Obviously they would have been prepared for it but as soon as they saw him they broke down and it kind of broke my heart a bit as well because it's your good mate's family, you don't want to see them crying. It's like watching your own mother cry."
It was a scenario few 22-year-olds have the capacity to cope with and just five days later Sims ran out onto Hunter Stadium for his first NRL game of the season, McKinnon's replacement as a rugby league community reeled from the seriousness of what they had witnessed.
In 39 minutes that day Sims ran for 160 metres from 15 carries as amid emotional scenes the Knights smacked Cronulla 30-0, but they soon learned that raw emotion can only take you so far.
In the space of a season of footy Knights players have seen the ownership of their club change hands, their coach announce that he would be leaving, a teammate suffer a life-changing injury, another walk away from the game temporarily to address his own mental state and two players rubbed out of the game until November 23 for an indiscretion they unwittingly committed at another club more than three years ago.
Here, we ask the baby of the high-achieving Sims family to try and make sense of it all.
What's your favourite word? Baby (pronounces it beh-be). It's just the way me and 'Mase' (Willie Mason) fool around. We just call each other baby all the time.
What's your least favourite word? I don't have one! I've never really thought about that before.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Heavy metal music
What turns you off? People being rude or ignorant
What's your favourite swear word? Shit.
What sound or noise do you love? A whistle. Whistling out to people is always funny, watching people trying to figure out where it's coming from.
What sound or noise do you hate? Like when something scratches on metal and it makes that real sharp noise, sends tingles down your back.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I'm doing a carpentry course at the moment but if I had to choose one probably a musician. I reckon it would be pretty cool to learn how to play music; I'd love to learn the piano.
What profession would you not like to attempt? Referee. That's torture.
And if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
[Laughs] Probably 'Welcome my son' or 'Welcome my brother', something like that.
Prior to making his NRL debut in Round 3, 2013, Korbin Sims was better known as Ashton and Tariq's little brother, not to mention having an older sister in Ruan who was a dual international in her own right.
The Gerringong born-and-raised junior has since made headlines by pledging his Origin allegiances to Queensland while his brothers remain staunchly blue and the three boys proudly lined up for Fiji in last year's World Cup, honouring the nation of their mother's birth.
As the youngest of five, Korbin is perhaps understandably still the one who receives special treatment from mum Jacqui – "When Mum comes up she cleans most of my house and does most of my washing" – but that mothering nature almost delayed the start of his professional football career.
While Ashton had already forged his name in five seasons playing at the Dragons and inspired his youngest brother to pursue a similar dream, mum Jacqui wasn't all that comfortable when the Broncos came calling when Korbin was just 15 years of age in 2007.
"I wanted to sign, Dad wanted me to sign but Mum didn't," he recalls. "I don't know why, it might have been because I was the youngest and she probably didn't want me to move away but at the time it was a bit of a running war between us for probably eight months of the year.
"Then I was at a schoolboys carnival in Newcastle and she came up to me and said, 'I've signed that contract for you.' It took me by surprise. I was like, 'Oh, right'o.'
"After I signed, and I don't know if it had anything to do with it, but Ashton was coming towards the end of his contract at the Dragons and they said, 'We want to get Ashton up here too.' I didn't know at the time, he does his contract thing, so then he signed and then Tariq was the last to sign with the Broncs."
The Sims boys may have all been on the Broncos books at the start of the 2008 season but they have never had the opportunity to line up alongside each other in an NRL match, and now never will. Ashton is leaving Australia to take up a two-year deal with Warrington in the English Super League while Tariq is heading south from Townsville to join Korbin in Newcastle.
If baby brother had got his way, however, it would have been a three-way reunion at the Knights for the 2015 season.
"I wanted Ashton to come down to Newcastle. Honestly, I wanted him to come down to Newcastle but he's made the right choice for him and his family, and I understand that," says Korbin. "He wants to set up his family for a good future and so he should. He's been around the game for a long time now, he knows how it all works and what he needs to do to set his family up now that he's got three kids and taking them over to England happened to be the best choice for him.
"There was a time there when we were negotiating new contracts, there was a possibility I would have gone to the Cowboys. Tariq was keen to get me up there and Ashton was pretty keen to get me up there as well and there was probably five months of talking and back and forth and then there was a dry spot. Everything just stopped and I started playing first grade for Newcastle and then I thought, I don't want to leave here now. I wanted to keep playing first grade for the Knights."
Where the boys have shared the field of battle is in representing Fiji at the World Cup, their qualification coming by their mother being born and raised in Fiji until the age of eight.
Ashton first represented the Pacific nation in 2008 and if anyone thinks this was a decision made to earn a few cheap international caps, listen to Korbin describe his disappointment in losing the mid-year Test against Samoa and missing out on a spot in the Four Nations tournament in October.
"It hurt a lot actually. I took it to heart quite a bit," Korbin said of their 32-16 loss in May. "It was really hard because Ashton and I played in the qualifying game together while Tariq was playing in City-Country and it was hard for Ashton and I because Ashton's been around for so long now and we'd come off such a good World Cup that we thought, We can do this, we can make another massive achievement not only for our careers but also for Fiji Rugby League.
"That's why we did it in the World Cup and why we played with so much pride because we knew the people back in Fiji just love watching football. They love watching it, they live it, they play it and they play on stones. When we went over there and watched some footy... They play for nothing, for their own rights and they're playing on rubble and we get to play on such big arenas and for such big stakes and what we do, they live every moment of it.
"[Playing for Fiji] was always an option but in my mind, personally, I was always going to play for Fiji. As soon as I knew that the World Cup was coming up and I'd had a couple of NRL games under my belt I kind of knew what to expect. It was just a no-brainer for pretty much all three of us.
"We love our heritage, we love our mum and that's what we wanted to showcase. We just wanted to show everyone in Australia and back home in Fiji that we play with so much pride and honour for our family."
After a disappointing loss to the Broncos last Saturday night – where Korbin scored his side's only try of the game – the Knights now have two games at home to give their fans something to hold on to until the 2015 season rolls around.
There will be a new coach, new players and something of a fresh slate but Korbin, in his manner of being wise beyond his years, says that the lessons learned in a torturous 2014 must be taken forward to forge a new future.
"From a club point of view I'm going to put it down to a building phase. We've got Rick Stone coming through who's not a new coach but he is going to be coming through with all this new knowledge after Wayne being here for such a long time that 2015 is going to be a really good year for us as a club," says Korbin, who has now played 30 top grade games for the Knights.
"We've got to learn from this year and take this year and put it behind us but also take that knowledge forward with us to know that we've overcome so many obstacles this year that it's not funny. We've had that many thrown at us that we've had to overcome and we've overcome them really well."
They're strong boys from a strong family and with two of them in the forward pack next year it's hard to imagine that the Knights won't be stronger for having them.