At just 23, St George-Illawarra fullback Darius Boyd has already packed a lifetime’s worth of drama and achievement into his short career.
After starting out in Brisbane and playing in a premiership in his rookie season, Boyd headed south to the Dragons with coach Wayne Bennett two seasons ago and won a second title last year, capped with the Clive Churchill Medal for his star performance in the grand final.
“I’m very happy with how it’s played out so far,” Boyd says. “Coming in as a young guy, I just wanted to play senior footy and to play firsts for Brisbane. Looking back, to have won a couple of premierships and the Clive Churchill medal last year, for sure, it’s more than I could have expected.”
This weekend, Boyd will be looking to add another trophy to his bulging cabinet when the Dragons face English powerhouse Wigan in the World Club Challenge, the annual fixture between the Australian and English champions.
“They’ve got a lot of quality,” Boyd says, “so we know they’ll be tough to beat. It’s great to have that high-quality footy under your belt before our season kicks off.”
The travel factor and the timing of the fixture undeniably favours the Super League clubs but Boyd insists the Dragons are well-placed to secure a third straight win by a visiting Australian side.
“Everyone’s excited about it; it’s the start of the year so it’s a bit different for us but we’ve been working hard in the off-season and if we do well at the things we’ve been looking to improve, then there’s no reason why we can’t come away with a win.”
The fairytale season
The Dragons, for so long one the NRL’s great underachievers, regarded as flaky and lacking in big-match temperament, finally broke their premiership hoodoo last year and, although in good shape to go back-to-back, will need to improve further to keep the chasing pack at bay.
“We need to do all the things that we did well last year and hopefully improve on them, both as a team and individually. You can always improve and all the players know what areas of their game they can develop.”
The Dragons’ premiership season was made all the more romantic by the return of favourite son Mark Gasnier, who left a lucrative deal playing rugby union in France to re-join the club where he made his name.
“I think they’d gone 31 years without winning one and we had gone pretty close the year before but fell short at the end,” Boyd says of the Dragons’ triumphant season. “And then to get Mark Gasnier back in the middle of the year, it was a bit of a fairytale.”
Follow the leader?
The unfolding story in Australia, one set to remain a talking point throughout the season, revolves around the future of Dragons coach Wayne Bennett, who was in charge during Brisbane’s golden era before turning the Dragons around. It seems increasingly likely that Bennett will leave the Dragons at season’s end, with Russell Crowe’s South Sydney looming as his likely destination.
“There hasn’t been much talk among the players really so I’m not too sure where it’s at,” Boyd says. “He’s got to do what’s best for himself and it’s out of our control really.”
Having only ever played under Bennett at senior level, Boyd unsurprisingly reveres Bennett’s abilities.
“Everywhere he goes, he gets the best out of players and all the guys know what’s expected of them,” he says.
Indeed, speculation about Bennett’s future is generally followed by questions about which players he may take with him. Having followed Bennett from the Broncos to the Dragons, what chance Boyd could follow him again to the Bunnies next year?