Artwork: Keisuke Osawa
How do you solve a puzzle like Anthony Milford?
It’s hard to take a definitive stance in the battle for his signature between Canberra and Brisbane, as some of the pieces just don’t fit.
Milford’s manager Sam Ayoub has asked that the Raiders NRL rookie be released from the final year of his Canberra contract in 2014 so he can return to Brisbane to be with his ill father Halo.
There is a get-out clause in Milford’s contract relating to family illness, but it requires agreement from the Raiders.
The Milford camp has been adamant – and public, via News Limited media – that Halo has been ordered by doctors not to travel due to a heart condition.
They had explored moving to Canberra to be with Anthony, but have reportedly scuppered those plans after advice from Halo’s doctor not to travel.
However, Fairfax Media understands Halo has been in Canberra this week and plans to be at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night to watch his son play the Sydney Roosters.
It is the second time in less than five weeks he’s travelled to visit his son. The family was also in the capital the weekend the Raiders hosted the Cowboys in round 17.
Milford had invited them down to gauge their thoughts on the city, with a view to potentially moving them down next year.
None of this is to suggest that Halo’s health is not an ongoing concern for Milford and his close-knit family, it just adds to the intrigue of the situation.
There’s the business and moral judgments to consider. So what do the Raiders do?
At the moment they could come across as callous, for not granting him a release and allowing a young man to put his family needs first.
At the same time, they have been funding and nurturing his development since he was a teenager, when the Brisbane-based kid was not even on the radar of the Broncos. Now that he is emerging as a genuine NRL talent, do they let him go when he has a signed contract for 2014?
The Raiders face the same battle to combat homesickness for many of the talented juniors they bring down from Queensland.
Wing sensation Edrick Lee was another who battled homesickness, while Queensland Origin forward Josh Papalii was ready to walk away until his family relocated to Canberra last year.
Papalii has been a strong influence on Milford and recently spoke of his desire for he and Milford, who he virtually calls a little brother, to play out their NRL careers together in Canberra.
On the Milford situation, there’s also the team dynamic to consider. Milford’s manager and Raiders coach David Furner have both stated the off-field drama will not affect Milford’s playing form.
Even if Milford is immune to the off-field pressure, what about others in the team?
Reece Robinson has proven a capable replacement for fullback Josh Dugan, both last year when Dugan was injured, and earlier this season when Dugan was sacked by the Raiders.
Now Robinson, who was moved to the wing to accommodate Milford at fullback, has been dropped from the NRL team altogether for Saturday’s game against the Roosters. So now Milford, a player who has asked for a release, and Sandor Earl, a player who had an equally bad game against the Melbourne Storm last week and is leaving for France at the end of the season, have moved ahead of Robinson in the pecking order.
Does he get disgruntled?
Do the Raiders stand down Milford now until his future is sorted?
It’s a massive gamble given their precarious position, seventh on the ladder and fighting for a finals spot.
If they stand him down for welfare reasons, it could also come across as punishing Milford.
For the Raiders, the tug-of-war for Milford’s services appears a battle they’re destined to lose, regardless of the outcome.
If he’s granted a release, the Raiders will lose one of the game’s best youngsters.
If they dig in their heels and keep him, the club will be criticised for a lack of compassion. Will Milford be able to give them his best every week and, at the end of 2014, will he leave anyway?
Canberra says it will wait until the end of the season to resolve Milford’s future.
Fairfax colleague Steve Mascord raised an option this week, suggesting the Raiders give Milford indefinite, paid compassionate leave, even if it means he doesn’t play for any NRL club next year.
Once his family issues are resolved, he can choose whether to link with the Broncos, or repay the Raiders by returning in 2015.
This idea is the best I’ve seen presented so far to try to solve the puzzle.
If the Raiders granted Milford leave on the proviso he not play for anyone next year, would it alter his camp’s thinking?
Testing how they would respond to such an ultimatum appears the best way to make a situation which is becoming more confusing by the day a bit clearer.