Boyd’s farewell: 'Why I’m at peace with Broncos disaster'
Darius Boyd's farewell season has not been what fairytales are supposed to be - but he is at peace with that. Boyd will run on to Suncorp Stadium for his 337th and final NRL game when the Brisbane Broncos take on the North Queensland Cowboys. A loss for the Broncos will see Brisbane finish with only three wins for the season and the club collect its first wooden spoon in 32 years following the sacking of coach Anthony Seibold.
In the early years of his 15-season NRL career, Boyd would not have coped with the struggles the Broncos have endured in 2020.
"My head space is in a really good spot," Boyd said.
"A few years ago, before I took myself into a mental health clinic and sorted myself out by getting some help, it would have been tough.
"I've learnt a lot about what's important. I obviously want to win and do the best I can every week, but losing a game of footy or not playing your best individually or as a team doesn't make you a bad person.
"I've learnt to put a lot of love and trust in my family and friends and make sure I keep doing my best job every week as a footy player.
"That's what life is all about. I had it the wrong way around for a long time. I had rugby league as number one in my life and my family and friends number two.
"I had to change that and I did. I couldn't be happier with my family, daughters (Willow and Romi), Kayla (wife) and the close friends in my life.
THE LAST LINK
Boyd's life could have easily gone in a different direction.
He has never known the identity of his father and was introduced to contact sport by a former partner of his mother, Rochelle, who Boyd has had a difficult relationship with.
Growing up in Beaudesert and the Gold Coast, Boyd briefly dabbled in rugby union as a child before converting to the 13-man code because he wanted to tackle more.
He wasn't a schoolboys standout at Palm Beach Currumbin but did enough to catch the eye of late Broncos scout Cyril Connell, who handed him a scholarship with no guarantees.
"He was the last of Cyril Connell's recruits," said former Broncos coach Wayne Bennett, who coached Boyd for 13 years.
"All the scouts saw him as a 16-year-old and no one wanted him. Cyril was the only one who saw something in him.
"He said 'Wayne, persevere with this kid, he's got something'. Cyril would be so proud of what Darius has become."
Boyd made his NRL debut on the wing for the Broncos as an 18-year-old in Round 1 of the 2006 season at Suncorp Stadium, scoring Brisbane's only try in a 36-4 loss to the Cowboys. He has scored another 85 NRL tries since.
He went on to play all 27 games for the Broncos that season, culminating in the grand final win against the Melbourne Storm, which remains Brisbane's sixth and last NRL title.
Now 33, Boyd is the last player left from that premiership team and at full time an era will officially come to an end.
"I was lucky to be part of it," Boyd said.
"I had such quality players around me like Darren Lockyer, Petero Civoniceva, Shane Webcke, Brad Thorn, Tonie Carroll, there's a whole list.
"I was a lucky young kid to come into that team. I was grateful to Wayne for giving me the opportunity to play in the team and continue on to the grand final.
"I didn't realise what we had achieved until later years when you find out how hard it is to win premierships."
Boyd followed Bennett to St George Illawarra in 2009 and helped the Dragons clinch the 2010 NRL premiership in which he collected the Clive Churchill Medal as the best player on the field in the grand final win against the Roosters.
The 2006 and 2010 premierships remain Boyd's greatest memories in the NRL.
"Premierships are the highlight," he said.
"The individual accolades are great but it's a team sport and it's very hard to win a comp. To do it with the guys you see for 11 months of a year, you need a lot of luck with injuries, form, Origin and other things.
Boyd will move past Brad Fittler and John Sutton (336 games) tonight to become the outright ninth most-capped player in league history.
He will finish with 206 games for the Broncos (2006-08 and 2015-20), 69 for the Dragons (2009-11) and 62 for the Newcastle Knights (2012-14).
But his career, and life, has not been without challenges.
In 2014, Boyd admitted himself to a mental health clinic and was diagnosed with a form of depression.
He emerged a better person and player and returned to the Broncos with Bennett in 2015, helping Brisbane make the 2015 NRL grand final, where they lost to North Queensland.
Boyd's appointment as Broncos captain in 2017 capped a remarkable career resurrection.
"We all know about the off-field things that happened in Darius' life," Lockyer said.
"He was close to being lost to the game and if he was, who knows where he would be right now, but he got through it and became a father.
"He has become well travelled in life, he has learned a hell of a lot."
Boyd has shown incredible consistency throughout his career and at one stage kept league legend Billy Slater out of Queensland's No. 1 jersey.
He has never been the fastest or strongest player in the game, but Lockyer said it was Boyd's other traits that stood out.
"I used to love the way Darius ran the ball back, he would pick out the biggest bloke in the line and try and run over them. He was always very courageous," Lockyer said.
"In the early years, he was an aggressive runner and then as he got older, he developed a passing game.
"He was physical, he read the game well, he was skilful, he was a superb athlete.
"When I saw a guy like Karmichael Hunt and Darius charging back into the line, it lifted the whole team.
"Darius was always very brave as a player. I just knew as a teammate he wouldn't let you down, he would do his job.
"In 2010, he was electric, he was one of the best players in the game at that point."
Boyd made an impressive 28 Origin appearances for Queensland during the Maroons' decade of dominance from 2008-17 and scored 17 tries, many on the back of his brilliant combination with Greg Inglis.
But his Kangaroos career remains a standout thanks to one stunning record.
Boyd never tasted defeat in 23 Tests for Australia - a record in the international arena.
"I never dreamt of playing for those teams," Boyd said.
"I'm so grateful to have got there and met those people and have close friendships from those teams.
"I was lucky to play through a really good era in the Queensland and Australian teams and have some great coaches."
Boyd was reluctant to talk about the final game of his career.
The Broncos have suffered through the most tumultuous season in their history and he would rather slip into retirement, and out of the NRL's COVID bubble, without any fanfare.
Boyd's form at times over the past two years has been criticised and he was controversially stripped of the captaincy he held for three years by Seibold after the 2019 season.
The 2020 season has been an utter disaster for the Broncos but Boyd remains grateful for what rugby league has given him, pregnant wife Kayla and their two daughters Willow and Romi.
"This year has definitely been challenging but it's been challenging for everyone in the community and society in general, not just rugby league," he said.
"We're lucky to have the game back on. When it got suspended in March no-one knew what was going to happen.
"I'm someone that doesn't look backwards - it's a negative mindset to have. I'm looking at all the positives. I've overachieved.
"As a kid I set out to play one game for the Broncos. My whole career has been a bonus for me.
"I've made a lot of friendships and relationships and rugby league has helped turn me into a better person.
By Kayla Boyd
Don't be surprised that my husband Darius Boyd will retire from rugby league without the publicity that some players attract.
That's just Darius.
For all that he has achieved on and off the field, Darius doesn't go seeking the spotlight. I have never heard him boast or seek praise. I've never heard him talk up his many victories.
When the game against the North Queensland Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium ends, Darius will be just happy blending in with his teammates, shaking hands with his opponents and heading back into the changerooms.
He doesn't want to be fussed over.
Darius will spend most of the pre-match playing with our daughters Willow, who turned five this week, and Romi, who is about to turn one. He adores them and they have him wrapped around their fingers.
He will show incredible patience with them, helping Willow draw and paint while following her many orders. He will keep a close eye on Romi as she crawls around our house at increasing speed.
And he will remain calm no matter what challenges young daughters throw at their father just hours away from a nationally-televised football game.
That's Darius - he's the same on game days as he is on his days off.
But he's a different person to the one I first met more than a decade ago.
I would watch him play in front of massive crowds and wondered how this shy, introverted man could handle playing in front of so many people. He loved the big stage yet he became nervous speaking with a stranger.
I cry happy tears about Darius' transformation, especially in the last few years as we've become a very content family of four with another on the way.
I will shed a tear, especially knowing that his beloved grandparents and uncle - such important people in Darius' life - aren't in the stands to watch him. He knows they're always with him.
I am proud of the man he has grown into - that our children have a dad like him to look up to. I know he will guide them well, and he will teach them all they need to know about resilience and how to bounce back from challenges.
As Darius says, the comebacks are always far greater than the setbacks. He's had a few of them.
Darius has got far greater things in front of him than he's achieved on the football field. He'll do incredible things. He'll keep enriching the lives of others and he'll keep telling his story in the hope that it helps someone else.
But, first, he has to finish his football career.
He'll be a professional to the end, treating his final game with the respect that he has treated rugby league since the day he began playing.
Rugby league has been very good to us. We'll always be grateful.
Originally published as Boyd's farewell: Why I'm at peace with Broncos disaster