Brisbane flyer Darius Boyd says his unshakable bond with Wayne Bennett was sealed when the master coach took a chance on him as an 18-year-old rookie in the 2006 NRL grand final.
Nine years later, Boyd hopes to again repay Bennett’s faith in Sunday’s NRL season decider against North Queensland in Sydney after a tumultuous 12 months.
Boyd’s decision to follow Bennett from club to club has at times been questioned, with Broncos great Willie Carne even claiming the winger would benefit from breaking ties with his long-time mentor.
Boyd has only ever played under Bennett in his 10-season career, including a 2010 premiership and Clive Churchill Medal with the Dragons.
He says he has never considered playing for anyone else since Bennett gave him the nod as a teenager for the 2006 season decider.
Brisbane upset Melbourne 15-8 in the 2006 grand final – the last time six-time premiers the Broncos have contested a season decider.
“As a young kid, when I won that first premiership, there were other guys he could have chosen, but he picked me,” 17-Test and 23-Origin veteran Boyd said of Bennett.
“That is something I have cherished and respected from then.
“To me, he is the No.1 coach in the game. I’d be silly not to want to play for him.”
Seven-time premiership winning coach Bennett has been just as influential off the field for Boyd.
A year ago, Boyd’s NRL career was in limbo, but that was the least of his concerns.
Boyd spent the last two months of the 2014 NRL season on sabbatical, checking into a mental health facility to seek treatment for depression.
Bennett was there again as Boyd regained his feet and returned to Brisbane after seven years away, only to rupture his Achilles days into Broncos pre-season training.
These days, Boyd has no complaints after toasting the birth of his first child in the lead up to the grand final.
“It’s not often that two special moments in your life happen in the same week,” said Boyd, who followed Bennett to Dragons (2009-2011) and Newcastle (2012-14) after his Broncos debut (2006-08).
“I don’t think it (life turnaround) will sink in until the season is over.
“It’s been a big year both on and off the field and in different ways.
“It doesn’t feel real at the moment.”
But Boyd is determined to savour this grand final almost a decade after the match that sealed his allegiance to Bennett.
Boyd admitted he was starry eyed back in 2006 in a Broncos team featuring greats Darren Lockyer, Petero Civoniceva and Shane Webcke, the latter getting the fairytale premiership farewell.
“I feel more a part of it now,” he said.