Mason: Alex will spur us on
Tough-as-teak Newcastle prop Willie Mason admits the sense of occasion of the RiseForAlex Round will inspire and lift the Knights in their clash with the Gold Coast at home on Sunday afternoon.
Recalling the mood in the team camp in the lead-up to the RiseForAlex game in Round 4 against the Cronulla Sharks, Mason insisted this weekend's game - expected to be played before a packed crowd at Hunter Stadium - would be doubly emotion-charged.
"The Cronulla game at the start of the year... was really, really highly emotional for a lot of guys and this one is going to be twice as much. I know when we were standing in that circle everyone was crying, so this one will be just [the same]," Mason said.
"Even to be a part of the first game against Cronulla and this one, if you can't rise up or anything like that, pardon the pun, you shouldn't play rugby league. The whole NRL is going to stand up but we're the main club that has to do it."
Not shy to admit that McKinnon is one of his best mates at the Knights despite their 12-year age difference, Mason couldn't be more proud of his young teammate with McKinnon speaking to the media for the first time since the incident on Monday morning.
"I have nothing but love for the kid," Mason said. "You just have to look at the way he conducts himself in front of [the media]... for the RiseForAlex week and he doesn't want to put it on himself and he's thanking everybody else. That's the sort of guy he is. He's such a good kid.
"The whole team gets quite emotional whenever you think of him. Even speaking to [Korbin] Simsy the other day... and he broke down so it still obviously touches the younger guys. The whole year has been very bizarre."
Admitting that he speaks to McKinnon every day on the phone, Mason believes now that McKinnon will be a pioneer for other players who have suffered or may experience major injuries.
"The first week or two when they said he was never going to walk again we were really shocked. He told us all that and we were all really emotional about all that stuff but impressively he kept getting better and better and now he can move both arms and his neck so he's come along in leaps and bounds," Mason said.
"I'm a massive believer in things happening for a reason but it sucks that Alex is it... I think there is a higher power there that picked him because he's such a strong kid."
With the RiseForAlex Round occurring this weekend, Channel Nine’s The Footy Show will host a telethon for Alex during their broadcast on July 17, with the call centre open from 8:30pm AEST. The number will be available soon.
Telstra will host the call centre, with 150 Telstra volunteers and players from several clubs who will be assisting with answering calls during the night.
Fans can also make donations online at www.riseforalex.org.au or by texting RiseForAlex to 0498 555 555.