With injuries plaguing Queensland’s playing stocks, coach Mal Meninga was forced to name a 22-man squad for the upcoming Origin II. As doubts over the fitness of Greg Inglis, Daly Cherry-Evans and Billy Slater cloud the make-up of the Maroons’ line-up, joining the side is representative staple Sam Thaiday, veteran centre Willie Tonga, Broncos whiz kid Ben Hunt, Warriors hard-man Jacob Lillyman, and possibly the most exciting prospect for Queensland, Raiders fullback Anthony Milford.
While Canberra was beaten convincingly at home by the in-form Broncos on Monday night, Miford was inspirational at the back for the Raiders, running for 117 metres and producing a line break and two offloads.
While it’s been a great year on the field for Milford – resulting in him leading the NRL in line breaks – off the field it has been a different story.
Before the start of the 2014 season, Milford agreed to terms with Brisbane, seeking an immediate release from Canberra to be closer to his family as a result of his father’s ongoing health issues. Incoming Canberra coach Ricky Stuart had other ideas, insisting that the club would not release Milford to Brisbane until the end of the year – and an ugly tug-of-war ensued.
It was thought that Stuart may have won the long-term battle for the teenage star, with rumours Milford would renege on the Brisbane deal prior to the round 13 cut-off arising. A sit down with Broncos legend and Milford’s childhood hero, Darren Lockyer, saw the Broncos secure the code’s most exciting prospect.
Putting his off-field dramas aside, Milford has been simply electrifying for Canberra this season, standing out in a less than impressive outfit. The embattled Raiders sit on just eight competition points at the halfway mark of the season, with only Newcastle and Cronulla keeping them off the bottom of the table. It’s easy to see why ‘Sticky’ was keen to keep Milford in the nation’s capital – his performance against Nth Queensland in round 11 was outstanding, producing three try assists, 152 running metres, two offloads and a four-pointer of his own. Milford has displayed freakish qualities at both ends of the field, while at the same time maintaining a rock solid defensive game and a resounding work-rate.
It’s performances like these that have the experts tipping Milford to be a future captain of Australia, but before Milford can take out the coveted ‘Top Dog’ position, he has a far more immediate task at hand – being called in to the Queensland camp as possible cover for the injured Billy Slater.
With NSW on the cusp of ending Queensland’s unprecedented eight-year reign, Milford could find himself in the No.1 jersey in Sydney next Wednesday if Slater succumbs to his shoulder injury, although Knights fullback and long-serving Maroons winger Darius Boyd remains the safe option. Milford is relishing the thought of donning the Maroon jersey, though admits the call-up was a bit of a shock: “Yeah (the selection) came way too early, I was a little surprised, but the boys (Queensland) have been really good to me so I’ll be ready to go if I’m needed,” he said.
The question has already been asked if Milford is up to the task of Origin, and apart from watching it on television, the closest Milford has come to the hallowed interstate arena is representing Queensland Under-20s earlier this year – a reminder of just how young this kid is. While experts are tipping Slater will get the OK for next Wednesday’s clash, Milford’s inclusion will keep the entire state of Queensland at ease, knowing they have this kind of talent up their sleeves. Milford remains an interchange utility option for the Maroons.
Whether Milford plays next week or not, Queensland and Bronco supporters will be licking their lips in excitement for the future, with this Souths Acacia Ridge product to only get better with age. And with Lockyer set to play a mentor role to Milford next year, the prospects are endless. With Lockyer in his corner he will not only learn the values of being a good leader, but he will learn the importance of conducting himself impeccably off the field, a quality Lockyer prided himself on throughout his illustrious career.
Although it’s a massive task to ask this kid to step up and match the brilliance of Billy Slater, or to handle the Origin cauldron as a shock weapon off the bench, one thing is for sure: Milford will bleed for that Maroon jersey. He will call upon every skill in his bulging arsenal to prevent NSW from claiming Origin series victory, exhibiting the kind of passion that the Blues could only hope to one day display.
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