Departing Raiders fullback Anthony Milford has come to Canberra's defence, saying the city and NRL club "doesn't deserve the bad rap it gets" and admitted it was a "really tough decision" to leave.
Milford says he feels no extra pressure facing his future club, Brisbane, at Canberra Stadium on Monday night, now "comfortable" with his decision to accept a two-year deal at the Broncos from next year.
Milford accepted the offer from the Broncos last year but then agonised over it for months, given he had until this match – round 13 against Brisbane – before the NRL would officially register his contract.
Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco used the same rule this week to renege on a three-year $1.9 million agreement with the Raiders. It has put the spotlight on Canberra's inability to sign marquee recruits, given Melbourne's Kevin Proctor also backed out of a verbal agreement to join the Raiders last week.
Milford, from Brisbane, maintains he only left the Raiders because of family reasons and he refused to pass judgment on the round 13 rule or the backflip from Tedesco, who Canberra had identified as Milford's direct replacement.
"It’s always a tough decision to leave a club," Milford said. "I’m not sure of James' reasons for his choice, every player is different. It is hard but, as I’ve always said, my family comes first and I trust their advice."
But Milford did stand up for Canberra, the Raiders and coach Ricky Stuart.
"Canberra’s a great place and doesn’t deserve the bad rap it gets from people who’ve never been here," Milford said. "Not only for the footy, but the people around the club ... they’ve not only got a great coach, but a great bunch of boys and it will be hard saying goodbye.
"It was a really tough decision [to leave]. The Raiders have been good and I had to weigh some family issues as I made my decision. They were outstanding during the whole process and Ricky and the players never put any pressure on me.
"Ricky especially has been great for me this year and I’ve learned a lot and I will always be grateful for his help. He’s not only a great coach but he’s a great bloke too and he’s very passionate about the Raiders."
Milford reaffirmed his commitment to the Broncos deal last month, which he admitted was a relief. But the 19-year-old said he didn't feeling any extra pressure playing against the Broncos, especially given it could double as an audition for the injury-hit Queensland State of Origin team.
"Not at all ... I’ve made my decision and I’m comfortable with it, and I’ll treat it like every other game," he said.
Hampered by a knee injury early in the season, Milford said he was back to full fitness and has vowed to give his complete commitment to the Raiders for the remainder of the season.
In particular, he's excited about the chance to finally play NRL with good mate and halfback, Mitch Cornish, who debuted two weeks ago. While the Raiders missed out on Tedesco, Milford compared Cornish, 21, to another Tigers young gun, boom halfback Luke Brooks.
"I remember when I came down for a few camps in my earlier years and trained with [Cornish]," Milford said. "You could tell he was always going to be a great player.
"I think he probably should have made his debut last year and it was a long debut in waiting. Everyone’s got raps on Luke Brooks, but I think Mitch is the type of player who can be just as important for the Raiders. He reads the game well and once he gets some more confidence I think he'll be a huge part of the team in the future."