I was going to start this article with some sort of soppy reference to the curtain closing on a decorated sporting career, but given that I’m writing about Darius Boyd, I have to tread a little carefully.
The mere mention of Boyd’s name these days is enough to send some into apoplectic seizure. Others merely glaze over, or cast their mind forward gratefully to the day he finally retires, and they no longer have to watch him play.
Notwithstanding the Broncos abominable 2020 season, and implicitly the sad end to Boyd’s playing days, has there ever been a more decorated athlete so poorly regarded by the game’s fan base?
For the past few seasons, the club’s social media arm has deliberately avoided any positive reference to the veteran fullback in their match reports, knowing if they lauded him, even fleetingly, the post would trigger torrent of bilious abuse from within the Twittersphere.
One wonders what they’d be saying if Boyd hadn’t featured in nine winning Origin series, represented his country in 23 Tests (without ever losing), won two NRL premierships, a Clive Churchill medal, a world club championship, all while amassing 336 first grade games – in the top 10 of all time.
Never been sent off. Never been cited. Not even a single cheap shot. And widely respected by his peers.
Yep. Darius Boyd – complete dud.
Some players are poster boys, others are punching bags, and Boyd, at least in the back half of his career, has been pummelled to within an inch of his life.
He’s Wayne Bennett’s “love child”, following the coach around from club to club like a pathetic little puppy dog. He’s a sook, he’s overrated, he’s overpaid. And Darius? What sort of God forsaken name is that?
To his eternal credit, Boyd blames nobody but himself for the strained relationship he has with Queensland’s sporting public.
He admits if he hadn’t been so terse and “media unfriendly” for the first half of his career, league fans may well have got to know “the real Darius Boyd”. They may have been more accepting and understanding of his troubled upbringing and his mental health battles.
Instead, he concedes he gave them ample reason to think he was “a bit of a dick”, his monosyllabic press conferences and refusal to co-operate providing little evidence to the contrary.
In 2014, Boyd did eventually open a window into his foggy and confused world, but not before he’d finally hit rock bottom.
His steep descent started with the serious injury to Alex McKinnon – the jovial red-headed forward was Boyd’s best mate and greatest supporter at Newcastle.
McKinnon would routinely take Darius home with him for Sunday night roast. Alex’s father took a long time to warm to Boyd, initially advising his son to “stay away”. “He’s weird and he’s trouble, Alex. Cut him loose.”
“No Dad, you’ve just got to get to know him. He’s good. You’ll see.”
And eventually they did. Boyd opened up, and let the McKinnons in. They became family.
Then Alex McKinnon broke his neck. That was it. Life was unfair. Life was complete crap. In late July 2014, the Knights played the “Rise for Alex” round at home, and couldn’t even beat the Titans. Further pain.
Having endured all she could of Darius’ moods and misery, wife Kayla walked out, taking the furniture with her.
Now he was not only alone, he had nowhere to sit.
That was the turning point, the moment he knew he needed help.
Roll forward six years, and Boyd is a vastly different person – settled, content, at peace with himself and his lot in life, even in the face of the heavy public discord.
Therein lies the irony.
As Darius Boyd’s relationship with himself improved, his relationship with the public deteriorated.
For years it had been the other way around – everybody was a Darius Boyd fan, everybody except Boyd himself.
These days, he’s simply grateful. Grateful for what the game of Rugby League has given him, and more importantly, the people who are now part of his life.
To demonstrate just how far he’s come, in 2015 when he was first introduced to the concept of “gratitude”, he jotted it down in his journal. He spelt it “greatful.”
As part of his therapy, Boyd has gradually learnt to distance himself from the vitriol. Long ago, he stopped reading and watching the news. To this day, he remains suspended in a state of blissful ignorance.
Social media is also a strict “no go zone” – the best way to deal with the personal attacks is to not know you’re being personally attacked.
This is the new, much happier world of Darius Boyd, where he’s all too aware that he can no longer do on the field what he once could. That clearly pains others more than it pains him.
A few years ago, around the same time Boyd had been accused of “stealing” (yes – stealing) the Qld No 1 Origin jersey that punters believed belonged to Billy Slater (poster boy), Boyd was having a bite to eat in Racecourse Road with his biographer and confidant, Michael Crutcher.
Out of the corner of his eye, Boyd spotted an elderly woman approaching, peering at him quizzically.
“Who are you? You look familiar,” the senior citizen remarked, slamming on the handbrake of her zimmer frame. She may or may not have been on for a chat.
“I’m Darius Boyd,” the subject matter conceded, reluctantly adding “I play Rugby League”, in case further context was required.
“Oh of course you are,” she said. tapping him on the arm in a grandmotherly manner. “And don’t you worry about what everybody’s been saying. I think you’re wonderful.”
Boyd smiled appreciatively as the elderly woman spun her wheelie walker around and toddled off.
“What they’ve been saying – I’m guessing it hasn’t been good?” he asked Crutcher.
“Just the usual,“ Crutcher said. “Same sh*t, different days..”
Boyd just smiled.
And to think, very soon it will all be over – 15 long, arduous seasons, grinding to an ignoble end.
Hardly the ideal way to bow out, but Boyd departs a happy man.
He’s both “greatful” and grateful for what the game has given him, and in a modest way, proud of what he’s achieved.
As for what the fans think, that’s really none of his business.
Battling the Blues – Darius Boyd’s biography written with the assistance of Michael Crutcher, is now available.Jump to next article