Oh, Momma: Anthony Milford touches down for one of his two tries in a masterclass against the Titans. Photo: Getty Images
If Brisbane want to win the 2015 premiership, the formula is simple: make sure Anthony Milford’s family are at every game, even if you have to pick them up in a helicopter.
Milford’s performance in Canberra’s 36-20 win over Gold Coast at CBUS Super Stadium was the perfect antidote for mid-season cynicism born of too many hit-ups, spot plays and yardage sets. In a competition where creativity is often neutered by coaches and shunned by players, the young Samoan international reminded us why we fell in love with the sport to start with.
His seventh-minute flick for centre Brenko Lee to score would make most players' highlight reels. For Milford, who turned 20 on Friday, it was just a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders.
His heady flat ball for Dane Tilse put the thundering giant into a gap at 32 minutes, and Milford backed up to score himself.
But for evidence of why Sunday's game was an "I was there" occasion, when a star bloomed before our eyes, check out his reverse, unsighted tap-on for centre Jarrod Croker's touchdown just short of half-time. "It's kind of an instinct thing," Milford attempted to explain, "He’s always off my hip."
After the break, Milford was temporarily subdued; and Gold Coast narrowed the margin to six for a 14-minute period.
But with five minutes left, he took a pass standing still, briefly faced his own try line, performed a pirouette, found space on the left, delivered an exquisite face-ball to Croker and backed up to score himself after turning Kalifa FaiFai Loa inside out.
"It gave me extra motivation, knowing mum and my family were there to cheer me," said Milford, who will join Brisbane on a two year deal next year.
"I don’t want to let them down, I want to entertain them as best I can. Today was the perfect way to do that. Mum and the extended family were all there. The role it played out there was unexplainable."
Asked if his kin would be regulars at Suncorp Stadium next year, Milford answered: "Fingers crossed, I hope so." So do the Broncos.
When Titans captain Nate Myles was asked how the performance ranked among any he had seen from, he initially called it "the best I've seen" before recanting somewhat. In Origin camp, Myles said, Milford was so quiet "I didn't even notice he was there".
Coach John Cartwright said Milford had been the entire focus of his preparation. "Any points they score, or the majority of points they score, come off him," Cartwright said. "He was just too good. They're sure going to miss him."
The margin was tight from the 56th to the 70th minutes, but Canberra finished full of running, with lock Shaun Fensom and halfback Josh McCrone joining Milford on the score sheet.
Coach Ricky Stuart put on a brave face over his star's impending departure, saying: "We all know he's a special talent and he showed today why he’s got that tag. He's still only a kid. There's a huge future in front of him.
"We haven't just found out [about his departure]. We've got a plan in place and we're working towards it. I'd like to think there’s some good news ahead."
Lee suffered a hamstring injury and is unlikely to play Melbourne on Saturday. Prop Brett White was rested, Stuart said, because "it was a style of game that wasn't going to suit Whitey's brand".