Waratahs rookie Mack Mason admits there were some nerves running out on to Allianz Stadium on Sunday, but a junior career of leadership helped him maintain his calm.
Replacing the Wallabies flyhalf is a daunting enough prospect in itself, without throwing in a debut against the undefeated Crusaders, but playing inside Israel Folau and David Horwitz helped settle any anxiety after an ‘out of the blue’ call-up.
“It was definitely out of the blue,” Mason said.
“I was at club training (at Easts) that night, just watching and he (Daryl Gibson) called me and said 'You'll be playing this week' and I was in shock and then nerves hit me, then the excitement, so it was just like waves of different emotions hit me.
“Running out there, my nerves started kicking in a bit.”
While he had the natural nervousness, there was no chance of Mason feeling out of his depth surrounded by stars, after captaining one of Queensland’s best schoolboy teams in recent years.
Mason captained the 2014 GPS-winning Anglican Church Grammar School (Churchie) team that went through their season undefeated.
That team included the NRL's hottest young star, Kalyn Ponga, at fullback and promising Reds winger Izaia Perese at 13, in a star-studded side that has already produced plenty of professionals.
It was Mason’s composure that coach Daryl Gibson had lauded ahead of his surprise debut and Mason said it was something he had always possessed.
“It's a bit natural,” he said.
“Growing up I was the eldest, so being the bossiest and always telling them what to do. At school, we had a really good school team and I was captain there.
“Just being captain in the younger grades really helps and keeps you composed and you know what you have to do for the players around you.”
Mason said Folau, Kellaway and Horwitz made things easier for him as he turned a ‘rusty’ first half into a positive second half contribution, including a try assist, that made him feel at home.
“First half, I was a bit rusty, I probably just had to get my feet, find my feet get into the game, then second half I felt like I really belonged out there,” he said.
“It's probably a credit to the players outside me helping me, telling me what to do, give it to them early or just play them up and you've got guys like Israel Folau outside you, you can't have a much better centre pairing than Israel Folau and Dave Horwitz."
Foley also played his part in helping Mason, who moved from Brisbane to Sydney in part because of the chance to work with the Test playmaker.
"He's helped massively this whole week, just telling me what to do early and then get in the groove and then play your own game," he said.
"It's great to learn off him and I'm really happy I came down here and got my start."
Churchie 2014 First XV
Richie Asiata - Australia U20s player 2016, Queensland Country NRC representative
Joel Kuchel - Premier Rugby player with Bond University
James Gall - Queensland Super U20s winner, Premier Rugby player with Easts
Angus Scott-Young - Australian U20s and Queensland Reds extended squad.
Liam Wright - Queensland U20s premiership-winning captain 2016
Harley Fox - Melbourne Rebels and Australia
Harry Nucifora - Queensland U20s premiership winner, on a rugby scholarship at Bond University
Mack Mason © - Former Melbourne Storm U20s,. Queensland U2s and now Waratahs squad member, Made Super Rugby debut Round 6, 2017
Jayden Su'a - Signed with the Brisbane Broncos until 2018, and has notched four games for the club so far.
Izaia Perese - Reds Super Rugby regular, 2016 Spring Tour development player
Brodie Croft - Made his NRL debut for the Melbourne Storm in 2016, against the Dragons.
Kalyn Ponga - One of the NRL’s hottest prospects, currently at the North Queensland Cowboys, signed to the Knights on a reported $3 million deal.