Darius Boyd has seen it all in his 13-year career in the NRL but not many fans know the player behind the metaphorical mask he's worn in public.
Is he cool and calm or is he detached and aloof? Arrogant or just a driven perfectionist?
He's had his fair share of highlights - a premiership with Brisbane in his rookie year of 2006, another title with St George Illawarra four years later, State of Origin domination in Queensland's greatest era plus success for Australia at international level.
But there have been a lot of bumps along the way - leaving Brisbane, his infamous 47-second media conference in 2009, his stint in Newcastle where he took time out from the game to deal with mental health issues.
NRL.com asked Darius what he'd say if he wrote a letter to that teenage prodigy with the world at his feet when he was getting ready for his Telstra Premiership debut for the Broncos at the start of 2006.
This is Darius Boyd, warts and all, talking openly about that media conference, his wife leaving him for a brief period during their time in Newcastle, knowing it's OK to cry in public, an off-field incident in 2008 which received plenty of negative headlines and why a stint in a mental health clinic transformed his life and was the best thing he has done for himself.
My message to a 17-year-old Darius Boyd
"This may sound strange, but the best thing you are going to do in life is book yourself in to a mental health clinic in 2014.
My advice to you is to do it when you are 18, because it will change your life for the better and it will be the making of you.
A decade from now you will be happily married to the love of your life, Kayla, and together you will have a beautiful daughter Willow. You will be captain of the Brisbane Broncos, the club you always wanted to represent.
You will have success early in your football career. You'll win two premierships and represent Queensland and Australia. All the accolades you will achieve in the game are amazing, but you won’t enjoy any of them one bit before you go into the clinic.
Right now, you are a closed-off kid with a chip on your shoulder and not enjoying life. You don't like yourself either.
Those closest to you see the best and the worst of you. It won’t be until Kayla leaves you for a short time in 2014 that you realise that you need to change and become a better person. You will realise it is not her fault or anyone else's. It is you.
You will eventually learn how to be happy but you will find the ins and outs of rugby league, the media scrutiny and all the pressures, will tip you over the edge.
Your stint in the clinic will provide you with the guidance and support to come through the other side with a new outlook on life.
You will learn to be happy and content with the person you are. When you aren’t happy with the person you are, then every little obstacle will bring you down.
Once you are the best version of yourself you can handle any hurdle that comes your way.
You will learn to be grateful for everything in life. For a long time you won’t be and you will feel hard done by. Five years after you enter the clinic you will still have the same family upbringing and the same challenges in life, but you will look at them completely differently. That sounds pretty crazy, but it is cool as well."
"While still a teenager you are going to meet your career-long coach and mentor Wayne Bennett.
If you stick close to him, and always listen to him, he will help you achieve all your goals and things you never even dreamt of achieving. Wayne will be a father figure to you. He will be great for you on and off the field and you will never want to let him down.
Wayne is an introvert like you but in the early years in particular, make sure you lean on him and reach out to him more than you feel inclined to. A decade later you will wish you had. He will always be there for you. Enjoy that relationship because he will make you the footballer you will become.
You will want to stay at the Broncos your whole career but when you get the chance to follow Wayne to the Dragons, Newcastle and back to Brisbane, take it. You will have success and some down times, but don’t change it because you will learn a lot.
Growing up you wanted to play one game for the Broncos. To become club captain is something you will never think could happen, but it will. Embrace the challenge and it will be a special thing that is close to your heart. When you are announced as Brisbane captain in 2016 it will be at a press conference with Wayne by your side. You will cry and won’t be able to speak.
Don’t try and change that either, because that is how you will be feeling. You wanted to play with Brisbane since you were six. You signed your first contract there and you’ll be sitting almost in the same room with Wayne 10 years later. To be sitting next to him and announced as captain with your wife and daughter there, you will feel so proud.
There will come a time when Wayne is not your coach but If everything goes to plan you will play your 300th NRL game against South Sydney, with Wayne as coach of the opposition. It will be the first time you play against him in club footy. I haven’t got to the landmark just yet, so I am speaking to my older self as much here, but treat it as a special week."
A special lady
"You will go out on the Gold Coast after playing the Titans in 2010. You are a shy young guy but after a few drinks a girl with dark hair will catch your eye at a bar at East nightclub. You’ll have a drink with her and then you’ll go back to Sydney and chase her really hard, and be backwards and forwards to Queensland to see her. Make sure you are persistent because she will become your wife, and change your life.
In your deepest and darkest hours she will always be there for you. She will make you realise what true love and support really means, and what life itself is all about.
For a long time football will be your number one, and when that doesn’t go well you will feel as though your whole life has no meaning.
She is the one who will make you realise life is all about family and friends and the ones that care about you because, unlike your career, your loved ones will be there forever.
Relationships aren’t easy. In 2014 you will spend time apart from Kayla and that stint in the mental health clinic I told you about will be the turning point in your relationship as well.
Willow will be born in 2015 and she will be the best thing that will happen in your life, and that’s because of what you learn in the clinic. That period of your life will help you become a good father and husband.
You didn’t have the biggest family, growing up with your mum and grandma, but Willow will give you the chance to start your own family in a really positive environment and teach her the many things that you have learned in your own life that can help her.
Hard as it may be to believe now, in the end you will do school visits and help other young people improve their mental health. Your life will have changed so much, all because of seeking help. So when you help other people in turn, it is rewarding."
"You will be fixated about what people say and write about you to the point of being paranoid. Don’t be. You will Google yourself almost every day. Don’t do it. Social media sites will be full of crazy comments about you, but don’t read them.
As you get older you will realise it doesn’t matter what people say. You will eventually stop reading social media and the papers, but my advice is not to start.
You will realise the opinions of people who love you and care about you are all that matter. When you surround yourself with negativity you aren’t happy. Always keep positive influences in your life.
In 2008 you will be involved in an off-field incident at the Broncos. It will be dredged up again the next year when you are in Sydney playing for the Dragons and when you visit your grandma in Queensland you won’t want to leave the house.
Wayne will give you some good advice after you get back to Sydney. He will say ‘you can’t let what others say or do dictate how you live your life. Be proud when you walk around. Know what you did and didn’t do because you have to live with yourself’.
Try not to get in that situation to start with but, regardless of what people say or do, if you know you are a good person be happy with that and hold your head high.
You won’t always get on with everyone. For some reason or other people might love you or hate you. Just make sure you do the right thing because you are the one that has to look at yourself in the mirror every day.
Learn how to take constructive criticism and don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. Wayne will know you will be stewing on it when you drop a ball or miss a tackle. He won’t chip you afterwards, because he will already know you are your own harshest critic.
That is a good thing in one way because you set high standards, but don’t overdo it. Striving for perfection will get you where you want to be, but when you make a mistake treat it as a learning curve and don’t punish yourself."
"I can give you some advice that may save you from a great deal of embarrassment and grief.
You have to learn to ‘play the game’ in the media and trust people. Early on in your career you will have the mentality with the media of ‘you burn me and you are crossed off the list of people I talk to’. It will be ‘if you say something negative about me, see you later. I’m never talking to you again’.
Try and change history here if you can, because that mentality won’t get you anywhere. You end up with a whole string of people you don’t want to talk to or mingle with, and all you are left with is all these negatives that you are holding on to.
I’m going to warn you of a 47-second interview in 2009 that makes you infamous. The weekend before that interview St George Illawarra lose to Canberra, and they will score after you let in a try. You will blame yourself even though you have a decent all-round game.
Your coach Wayne Bennett will point out to you that there were a lot of other reasons why the game was lost. Listen to him, because three days later you will still be kicking stones. Your media manager will ask you to speak to the press during the week, because the next game you are playing the Broncos. You will reluctantly make up your mind to do that interview, but say virtually nothing with a disinterested look on your face.
A decade later people will be talking about you in a different light. You will learn to ‘play the game’ and fulfil all your media responsibilities. You’ll be open and transparent and people will be holding you up as a shining light. It will become the story of ‘the two Darius Boyds’. Try to learn to have the right approach from the get-go.
I guess you need to know why you should co-operate with the media. You are going to get paid extremely well for playing the game you love, more you can ever dream of as a teenager, but everything you have will be due in a large way to the media and the hype that exists around the game you play. The money that is in the game is due to broadcast rights, paid by media organisations to the NRL.
As your career goes on your salary will go up and up and up, and that is why. As you get older there will be an organisation called the RLPA that will help you understand your part in growing the game and how the partnership with the media is a huge part of it.
When you start off all you will want to do is play the game for the Broncos. The key piece of advice I can give you is to think about the big picture. You won’t like it, but you will grow to understand it and appreciate it. In the end it is the interest from the media that will give you a great life, a nice house and enable you to fly all over the world to play the game you love. There are ups and downs with it, but learn to embrace it and live with it."
Fame and success
"You will go from school to playing a full season of NRL in 2006 and winning a premiership. The change is huge, from not the most popular kid at school to playing at the highest level and rubbing shoulders with Darren Lockyer, Petero Civoniceva and Shane Webcke.
You will think they are gods but they are human beings like you, The only difference is that they will be living their dreams and you will be just starting yours.
When you join the Broncos you’ll go on a six-day army camp and be placed in club legend Shaun Berrigan’s group. That camp will teach you how hard it is to be an NRL player. Nothing will come easy. They will tell you to bring your surfboard for a trip to the Sunshine Coast, but when you get there you will find 30 army bags lined up. Leave your phone at home because you won’t be needing it.
After your success in 2006 everyone is going to want a piece of you. People will be coming up to you and asking for a photo. You'll find it strange, going from nothing to having all this attention you never had in the past. Nothing prepares you for it, but try and be approachable.
The temptation will be to be short with people, to not smile or give them eye contact. Life, and your career, is too short to be angry and sad. Be polite, smile and be respectful. When you are in your car and there’s a lot of traffic, let someone in. Give people the time of day. You will find the little things you do will go a long way. Just remember that you never know what someone else is going through
Try and be a really good person because it is something you will struggle with in those early years.
As a kid you will think about where you are going to be in five years and wonder 'am I good enough?' and 'will I ever make it?' It is going to happen, so get ready for it. You will be one of those kids that tries your absolute best. Keep that mindset because your work ethic and pursuit of perfection will get you there. It will serve you well throughout your career. Keep wanting to be the number one trainer."
"You will win a premiership in your first year at the Broncos in 2006. You will be on a massive high but make sure you treasure it because it won’t happen every year.
In 2010 you will play fullback for the Red V and help the Dragons break their premiership drought. It is a famous club and fans will accept you straight away and have signs up in the crowd with your name on it. Embrace it. You will play with a great bunch of guys, some of them 10-year players at the Dragons.
One of your favourite memories will be Dean Young and his father Craig, a club great, embracing and crying together after the grand final. Nine years later you will be captain of Brisbane but you will still have people calling out to you in the street ‘I appreciate what you did for the Dragons’.
You will wear the green and gold of Australia 23 times. Your first game will be against PNG and Laurie Daley will speak to you before the game about how physical it will be against the Kumuls. He won’t be lying. Singing the anthem before you play for the Kangaroos is something you will never forget. Never take it for granted.
You will win a World Cup final at Wembley and at the end of your Test career you will get to play fullback for Australia under coach Mal Meninga. Those Tests under Mal will be your fondest memories of international football because of the way he prepared the team. He will make you appreciate why Test footy is the pinnacle.
Playing with the Maroons will be like another family for you. It will be your favourite three weeks of the year and the success the team has is something you should cherish because Queensland will win eight State of Origin series in a row and make history.
You will play in the Maroons team with all-time greats like Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith and that will be a highlight of your career.
Most of your 28 games will be played on the wing outside Greg Inglis. He will set you up for plenty of tries so get ready for every opportunity that comes your way. Those guys are not just outstanding players. You will be impressed by what good people they are as well.
To go into Origin camp with someone like JT and then afterwards have him keep in contact and show a genuine interest in you is something you will always cherish.
31-year-old Darius Boyd
Help is available 24/7 for anyone who has mental health issues by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14
For further information on the NRL State of Mind program, click here