Sport Rugby League NRL star in tears over battle with depression

NRL star in tears over battle with depression

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After walking away from the NRL suffering from depression and with his marriage in tatters, Darius Boyd has made a triumphant return to the game, with coach and mentor Wayne Bennett saying he is “a changed man”.

The notoriously media-shy Boyd opened up to Australian Story about his mental health battles and how his upbringing played a role.

Boyd was brought up without a father and his mother left him when he was 15 years old to deal with her own depression.

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When best mate Alex McKinnon broke his neck while playing for Newcastle last year, Boyd was forced to leave the Knights and the NRL to receive treatment for the depression which could have cost him his career and his marriage.

Boyd returned to the field with the Broncos in early May and six-time premiership-winning coach Bennett — the only coach under whom Boyd has played under in the NRL — says he is “an extremely good person” who is “just starting to come out of himself”.

“He’s a different boy, he really is, and he’s proud of that and he likes himself,” Bennett said.

“He’s a changed man at the moment, there’s no doubt about that. He’s comfortable and he communicates much easier.”

Wayne Bennett and the Knights
Wayne Bennett (centre) is the only coach Darius Boyd (left) has played under in the NRL.

Now the star who was sometimes portrayed as a pantomime villain for his refusal to open up to the media and fans and often sported a permanent scowl, appears to be in a much happier space.

Boyd himself admits: “I definitely want to be a happier person, I walk around with a frown too many times and it’s not hard to have a smile”.

When you consider Boyd’s childhood, his disposition is understandable.

Boyd was brought up by a single mother and never knew his father.

When he was 15 his mother was hospitalised with depression and they became estranged.

“Footy became his saviour,” Boyd’s wife Kayla said.

“It was his way of dealing with everything in his life.”

Boyd found the father figure he had been looking for in Bennett and a bond formed between the pair.

Football skills aside, there was one thing super coach Bennett liked about his star player Boyd above all others: “He made me look good with the media. I used to love his interviews”.

On the field they won premierships together at the Broncos and Dragons before both moved to the Newcastle Knights in 2012.

Success proved more elusive there and Boyd slipped into depression.

“I got in that bubble of negativity and I just couldn’t get out,” he said.

“It was like a spiral that got worse and worse and I never got on top of it till it was too late.”

The final straw was the tragic accident in March 2014 that left McKinnon in a wheelchair.

Bennett saw the effect on Boyd.

“I think Darius got really cheesed off with himself when he realised he had so much and Alex had so much taken away from him and Alex was happy every day, and doing his best, and he was unhappy,” he said.

Boyd’s illness put a strain on his marriage and when his wife Kayla left him he realised he needed professional help.

Kayla and Darius Boyd at the beach
Darius Boyd, with Kayla, says illness placed strain on his marriage.

He quit the Knights mid-season and checked into a clinic.

“I remember ringing a nurse in there. After I hung up the phone I just started crying,” Boyd said.

“I was just like, it was a relief, I was so happy that I’d sorted it out and organised it.”

Former teammate Wendell Sailor said: “We talk about courage on the football field, but I think it takes a lot of courage off the field, to be able to put up your hand and say ‘I’ve got some problems in my life’.”

The treatment proved worthwhile and as part of his recovery, Boyd has re-established contact with his mother, who he had not seen for nine years.

“Reconciling with his mum has been something that he’s needed to do and I think he thought that he didn’t need to,” Kayla said.

“Since he’s done it, he feels like a weight’s been lifted off his shoulders.”

Boyd and his wife have also reconciled and are expecting their first child the day after this year’s NRL grand final.

On the pitch things are also going well.

Earlier this month, Boyd made an astonishingly quick return from a serious Achilles injury, allowing him to play for the winning Queensland side in the first State of Origin game.

With the Broncos sitting near the top of the NRL ladder, the months ahead may yet yield Boyd his third premiership.

“Darius Boyd’s an extremely good person, he’s just starting to come out of himself, and I hope the world gets to see that bloke,” Bennett said.

The full story with Darius Boyd can be seen in Battling the Blues on Australian Story at 8:00pm, Monday June 1 on ABC TV.