Former Newcastle Knights NRL player Alex McKinnon (centre), is surrounded by (from left) former Knights teammates Dane Gagai, Korbin Sims, Willie Mason and Darius Boyd and coach Wayne Bennett in 2014.
Former Newcastle Knights NRL player Alex McKinnon (centre), is surrounded by (from left) former Knights teammates Dane Gagai, Korbin Sims, Willie Mason and Darius Boyd and coach Wayne Bennett in 2014. PAUL MILLER

Boyd reveals McKinnon helped him land captaincy

DARIUS Boyd knew he was in Wayne Bennett's captaincy plans about 12 months ago.

He reckons good mate Alex McKinnon was in on it even earlier.

When the going has got brutally tough for both in recent years, Boyd and McKinnon went together, side-by-side.

So it's only right that McKinnon has been right there with him during Boyd's remarkable rise from the rugby league canvas, culminating in his announcement as Broncos skipper on Wednesday.

"Yeah (the captaincy) was something I spoke to him about," Boyd said.

"Alex checked on Wednesday and just said 'congrats' and 'you'll do a great job'. I've had support from a lot of people and you appreciate all of it.

"I think he already knew about Wayne's plans. He and Wayne are pretty close and I'd say he knew before I did.

"He just offered his support, said 'you'll be great, you'll be fine'. It's not something I gave too much thought, I wouldn't have planned to bring it up or anything.

"Actually it was probably my wife who might have mentioned it. She likes to speak up if I'm not talking much.

"But I reckon he already knew anyway from Wayne. His support was great."

That support is only the half of it. The broken neck McKinnon suffered in 2014 changed both the game and multiple lives.

Boyd was so affected by it that when his own world crumbled around him a few months later and he sought help having suffered long-term depression, Bennett admitted McKinnon's injury may well have sent Boyd over the edge.

The Broncos No.1 concedes there was an element of truth to Bennett's theory, along with wider issues at play.

The real story for Boyd was how McKinnon helped drag the Broncos No.1 back to the world, back to the footballing career that has only moved in leaps and bounds since.

McKinnon was on hand at Red Hill during Brisbane's 2015 grand final preparations.

He was there when Boyd returned to Hunter Stadium in last season's Anzac Test, his first appearance at the ground since the Rise for Alex round in 2014, Boyd's final game before briefly walking away from rugby league.

McKinnon is there because Boyd did the same for him. And he'll be in mind when Boyd leads the Broncos for, according to Bennett, as long as he's lacing his boots.

"I see Alex for Alex, not for the injury or anything like that," Boyd said.

"But it is inspiring, the way he goes about life every day. He's always positive, always telling you what he's doing, what he's up to.

"He's really happy and that's pretty inspirational in itself. To see someone who's had so much taken away, who's really positive and working hard still, there's a lesson for everyone to take out of it there.

"Sometimes you don't get dealt the best cards but you've got to deal with what you've got, and he's doing it."

Having grown close during their time under Bennett first at the Dragons, then at the Knights, Boyd and McKinnon, as well as their respective partners Kayla and Teigan, catch up as regularly as possible.

McKinnon's rehab takes him up Boyd's way to the Gold Coast often, while Boyd will get down to Newcastle to check in throughout the year as well.

Boyd happily reports that McKinnon's new gig in the Knights recruitment department is keeping him well and truly busy.

"He's really getting into his recruitment role with the Knights," Boyd says.

"He'll ring up telling me about this new 17-year-old that's big and fast and whatever. Or when (Kalyn) Ponga signed there he was right into it.

"He seems happy, he seems really busy and he's enjoying that role. He's out to a lot of games and he's scouting people too and seems to be enjoying it."