As Brisbane’s richest ever player is dropped to reserve grade, a question over the future of Anthony Milford left coach Kevin Walters lost for words.
As Brisbane’s richest ever player is dropped to reserve grade, a question over the future of Anthony Milford left coach Kevin Walters lost for words.

The $1m Milf question that left Kevvie speechless

Anthony Milford has been urged to move to the Super League as Broncos coach Kevin Walters admitted he was amazed Brisbane's maligned five-eighth hadn't quit the NRL following constant criticism.

The Courier-Mail has delved deep into the demise of Milford, the highest-paid player in Brisbane's 33-year history who has been dropped to reserve grade for the first time in his 185-game career.

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Walters said Milford faces at least a month in the Intrust Super Cup with Souths-Logan beginning in Sunday's clash against Norths at Davies Park in West End.

It has been a slow, yet dramatic, crash for Milford since he was arguably the best player on the field in Brisbane's 2015 grand final loss to North Queensland.

Milford, 26, was one of the NRL's top playmakers the following year and in 2017 the Broncos signed him to a club record $4 million deal for the 2018-21 seasons.

 

Four years on, the Milford investment has backfired spectacularly on the Broncos, with the Queensland and Samoa representative copping constant flak for his poor performances.

Walters said he was stunned Milford had been able to withstand the barrage of criticism.

"I'm not sure what's happened between then (2015) and now," said Walters, who took on the Broncos' coaching job this season.

"Right now, we've taken a lot of pressure off Milf. It's possible the attention he's received in the five years since that game (grand final) is a lot to take on for a young man.

"I do feel sorry for 'Milf'. In some regards he's been accused of everything that's happened at the Broncos. In actual fact, that's really unfair to individualise one player.

"I feel for the pressure he's been placed under. When you look at the scrutiny and pressure he's been under, it's amazing he's still playing the game.

"Being here at this club, there's a lot of pressure on everyone and he more than any other has been singled out. Now he can go back in the Intrust Super Cup and play his footy.

"It will be an interesting next four weeks for Anthony and where he is at mentally, physically and all of those areas he's good at."

 

The start of Milford's downward spiral can be traced back to 2017 - the year he came off-contract at the Broncos.

After dominating in 2015 and 2016, his first two seasons at the Broncos after leaving Canberra, Milford was one of the most sought-after playmakers in the NRL.

The highly-successful Melbourne Storm launched a huge bid to poach Milford which prompted the Broncos to offer him a $1 million-a-season deal, the richest in club history.

While Milford was still playing well in 2017, he only scored seven tries that year compared to 14 in 2016 and 13 in 2015. He registered 10 line breaks in 2017 following 19 in 2015 and 17 in 2016.

The slide had started and it became an avalanche in 2018, the year Milford's long-term halves partner Ben Hunt joined St George Illawarra.

Milford was then playing alongside Kodi Nikorima, a similar style of player to himself rather than the controlling halfback that Hunt was.

He was also coping with the pressures of being a $1 million-a-season player, which has brought down many in the NRL over recent years.

When asked if Milford's salary had impacted his performances, Walters was at a loss for words.

"I don't think so," he said.

Would he play better if he was paid less?

"That's probably a question I shouldn't answer. I don't know how to answer that one so I won't," Walters said.

Milford trained well after being dropped. Pic Peter Wallis
Milford trained well after being dropped. Pic Peter Wallis

Milford only scored six tries in each of the 2018 and 19 seasons while his line breaks, line-break assists and try-assists also plummeted.

His 2020 season was marred by injury as the Broncos crashed to the club's first wooden spoon and coach Anthony Seibold was sacked.

The fact Milford will be replaced by Brodie Croft in Thursday night's clash against unbeaten Penrith at Suncorp Stadium proves his demotion is as much about setting a standard as it is improving the Broncos.

Croft has struggled since joining the Broncos last year and cannot be considered the saviour for Brisbane.

But Walters wants to see improvements in a number of areas before Milford is recalled to the NRL.

"There are a lot of areas - his defence, kicking game, running game, everything that Milf is good at we need to see," Walters said.

"We've taken the pressure off him now. He handled the decision extremely well and had his best training session straight after he was told which is always a good sign of a player wanting to get better and I know he does.

"He loves this place and belongs in the NRL but everyone has had a stint in the lower grades and unfortunately it's Milf's time at the moment."

 

Walters hopes a step back from the NRL will reinvigorate Milford and help him find the form that made him one of the game's most dynamic players.

But he is also off-contract and his future at Red Hill remains clouded, especially with Kotoni Staggs being discussed as next year's five-eighth.

If Milford is squeezed out of the Broncos, it is likely he will have interest from other NRL clubs, albeit on a reduced salary.

However a move abroad could be the answer to get him firing again, according to NRL premiership winner and commentator Scott Sattler.

"I think he should go to the UK Super League," said Sattler, a member of Penrith's 2003 title-winning team.

"He would be an absolute superstar over there, he would get good money and light up the English crowds.

"He loves the attacking style of the game. It's quite evident he doesn't want to have the responsibility of running a team and there's nothing wrong with that.

"The Super League is made for someone like Anthony Milford.

"If he goes over there for two years and rebrands himself like Jackson Hastings then there is still a chance for him to come back."

At 26, time is on Milford's side but whether he can resurrect his career at the Broncos is the $1 million question.

Originally published as The $1m Milf question that left Kevvie speechless