Darius Boyd looks down at his phone, grins and says, "I've just missed a couple of calls from Wayne, so I'll have to call him back."
The Broncos captain had just appeared on NRL.com’s 'Inside the NRL' show by video link from Brisbane HQ on Monday when his lifelong mentor Wayne Bennett called.
When Boyd plays his 300th NRL game on Thursday night against Bennett’s Rabbitohs it will be two rugby league journeys coming together for one of those rare occasions where the rugby league Gods conjure something very special.
Bennett told NRL.com he felt "blessed" to have just been on a 14-year journey with one of his favourite ever players. Boyd described the looming occasion as "special", the first time he will play against a Bennett-coached club side after playing 292 NRL games under him.
"I knew I was close to 300 and once the draw came out I looked at it I thought, 'Oh ... I am going to play the Rabbitohs in my 300th against Wayne'," Boyd told NRL.com.
Boyd talks Bennett; form and future ahead of 300th
"It is pretty special. More than on the field, it has been the conversations I’ve had with Wayne about life off the field that have helped me become a better man. That is the biggest thing I have respected and valued.
"Wayne always cared about me. That is why he is respected by people in general because he genuinely cares for people.
"A lot of young boys come into rugby league but he wants them to leave the game better men and have something to show for their lives. I’ve always trusted him."
I always feel blessed that I have been part of his life and he’s been part of mineWayne Bennett on Darius Boyd
Bennett said it was more than fitting that Boyd, who was with him at the Dragons and Knights, should mark 300 games in a Broncos jersey.
"He should have played all 300 games for Brisbane. It was never his decision to leave," Bennett told NRL.com.
"They didn’t rate him after I decided I was leaving in 2008. He went across to see them and they decided they weren't going to keep him, but I never had any hesitation about taking him [to the Dragons] and we’ve had a long journey from 2006, when we won the premiership, until 2018.
"It has been a wonderful journey. I have loved it. I always feel blessed that I have been part of his life and he’s been part of mine.
"The Broncos have been the love of his life. He is an extremely loyal person and he’s been loyal to the club and loyal to me, so it is fitting he is bringing up 300 there."
Boyd told NRL.com in a letter to his younger self that his stint in a mental health facility in 2014 changed his life. One thing the self-confessed perfectionist learned in rehab was perspective, and not to beat himself up when he didn’t attain the unattainable.
Bennett was there by his side through all that as a pillar of support, with always an attentive ear to listen to Boyd.
"That is the thing he learned in rehab, that perfection isn’t attainable but excellence is. That has helped him a lot," Bennett said.
"He told me that. He said 'I am not depressed coach. I have seen what depression is here [in the facility] but I'm not in that state'. He then showed me a piece of paper about how perfection wasn't attainable but excellence was.
"Darius absorbs things. He is a very smart bloke. Take away his football ability, he’s had all the other battles away from the field with himself, but he’s improving there all the time because he is learning all the time.
"He is learning how to manage himself better, and he’s outstanding at that now. He has grown into that."
Bennett dropped Boyd once in the 292 NRL games he coached him, back in 2007.
Boyd remembers that well, but such is his regard for the coach that he still views it as a masterstroke.
"I was young, it was my second year in the NRL and had just won a grand final. I don’t know if I was just going through the motions but Wayne sent me back to reserve grade and I found the fun in football again,” Boyd said.
"I came back the next week and scored a couple of tries against Newcastle and it gave me that wake-up call that I still had to work for everything. Even last year, when maybe confidence in my hamstrings was lacking or form, Wayne chucked me in the centres for a little bit.
"Maybe he was trying to teach me something, but he does it in such a good way that I looked at it as more of an opportunity to help the team from centre rather than him dropping me from fullback to centre.
"He is good at reading people and knowing when they need a change and that is why he has been in the game for so long."
Boyd has also learned how to deal with the media. Now a stellar performer in that arena, it wasn't always the case. A 47-second interview when he was with the Dragons was his nadir in that respect, and Bennett has a great anecdote on that.
It has been a wonderful journey. I have loved it. I always feel blessed that I have been part of his life and he’s been part of mineWayne Bennett
"He handled the press badly back then. He detested talk and being put in that position… so he’s had an absolute shocker and the journalists all carried on," Bennett chuckled.
"Peter Doust has rung me and said, 'Darius has had a shocker. He wouldn’t talk, just mumbled and didn’t want to be there. Can you have a yarn to him?'
"I said, 'Peter, I can't have double standards. I’m just a half inch above Darius in that department. It is just not going to happen'. So I brought Darius in and I said 'Darbs, I’ve been told to have a few words to you but you’ll learn how to handle it. I can’t give you any advice because I’m not much better'."
Bennett reflects on Boyd's infamous 2009 interview
Bennett had a good read on Boyd from the get-go. Back in 2005, he had trusty recruitment manager Cyril Connell by his side, who saw the talent in a teenage Boyd that others didn’t when he attended Palm Beach Currumbin High School.
"Darius repeated Grade 12 because he wasn’t scouted by anybody and Cyril had seen something in him. Cyril got him and said to be patient with him," Bennett said.
"So Darius arrived at the Broncos in 2006 for one of the toughest pre-seasons we have probably ever done. It was [trainer] Dean Benton’s first stint there and he absolutely shook the place.
"The first thing I noticed about Darius was what an athlete he was. He was in pain like the rest of them but he got through it with no difficulties and no complaints."
The Broncos had a strong side in 2006 but were short of a couple of wingers who were safe under the high ball. Bennett took Boyd to Port Macquarie for a pre-season clash with Canberra in 2006 where the teenager learned some tough lessons.
Boyd's special relationship with Alex McKinnon
"He had a few soft handling errors and I remember getting into him about it, and he was running a bit soft, but he’s always been a great learner and he took on board what I said and picked up his handling enormously and played mistake footy for us in his first year," Bennett said.
"For him, it was about getting confidence in himself. He didn’t always run hard initially but I persevered with him because I knew there was something special about him. He learned how to run hard, control the footy and play mistake-free."
Bennett knew Boyd was a fullback in waiting and it soon became apparent that was the position where he would shine. From 2009 onwards he made the position his own at the Dragons.
"We had a great team of blokes and we got some wonderful results, but Darius was really instrumental in it all,” Bennett said.
"I remember the day he came alive at Kogarah against the big arch-rivals Cronulla. He went out and absolutely had a great game in front of a big crowd. He got a lot of confidence and belief out of that and after that, he had three great seasons there.”
I always wanted to be there for the 300th of the guys I brought to the club as young fellasBroncos coach Wayne Bennett
The sense of occasion this Thursday is not lost on Bennett, even though he will be plotting the Broncos' demise on the night.
"It is not going to worry me and it won’t worry him. We have been through too many grey gullies together, me and him, for that to be an issue for us," Bennett said.
"I am just pleased that I am going to be there for Darius’s 300th because I wasn't sure when it was going to come up. I went home to Brisbane for Darren Lockyer’s 300th and I was at Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker’s 300th. I always wanted to be there for the 300th of the guys I brought to the club as young fellas.”
As a boy, Boyd wanted to play one game for the Broncos. He was forced to leave the club in 2009 but said he "wouldn't change anything".
"I had some great years at the Dragons and won a comp and met some great people. At Newcastle I learned a lot about myself and got to change some things in my life which I am very grateful for, and had a great year in 2013 when we went to the major semi-final," he said.
"To come back to Brisbane and be the captain is something I never thought I’d do. I have Wayne to thank for that and to play game 300 with a Broncos jersey on is very special."
NRL.com caught up with Boyd again on Tuesday to find out what Bennett had said to him when he returned the call that he missed the day before, and a lump was clearly in his throat.
"Wayne just said, 'it has been a Darius Boyd day today. I did a few pieces on you today and I hope you are proud of them'," Boyd said.
"I thanked him for that and for everything he has done for me. I sent him another text thanking him again because I've heard some of the nice things he said and it gave me a warm feeling inside and made me feel pretty humble."