Anthony Milford and Sami Sauiluma at the Raiders' awards night. Photo: Melissa Adams
Canberra Raiders interim coach Andrew Dunemann says the club will move heaven and earth to stop star rookie Anthony Milford quitting the club after he became only the third teenager to win the Mal Meninga Medal.
The club avoided a major embarrassment after Milford claimed the club's highest individual honour on Wednesday night by five votes from sacked centre Blake Ferguson, who went AWOL for the last month of the season.
The 19-year-old's win comes as Canberra ramps up its quest to keep him by meeting with his manager, Sam Ayoub, on Thursday.
Meninga Medal presentation night
Meninga Medal presentation night at the AIS Arena in Canberra. Photo: Melissa Adams
Milford has requested a release from the final year of his contract to be closer to his sick father Halo, and the Broncos are set to pounce.
After sacking representative stars Josh Dugan and Ferguson this year, Canberra can ill afford to also lose its best young player.
Milford received 19 votes to win the Meninga Medal from Ferguson (14), with fellow youngsters Paul Vaughan (12) and Jack Wighton (11) close behind.
It is a rare achievement given Milford began the year in the under-20s and played in an SG Ball under-18 grand final just 16 months ago.
He joins club great Brad Clyde (1989) and Mark McLinden (1998) as the only 19-year-old Mal Meninga medallists.
The exit of Dugan and Ferguson means the Raiders have a war chest at their disposal to keep youngsters Milford and Jack Wighton, viewed as Ferguson's long-term centre replacement.
Wighton is off contract at the end of 2014 and will be in demand after making his representative debut for Country this year.
''We've already lost two X-factors and if we lose this kid [Milford] … he's crucial to this club moving forward,'' Dunemann said.
''Him and Jack Wighton, it's imperative the club keeps both of them and I know we're doing all we can to do that. Those type of blokes don't come around too often.''
The win is a positive end to a tough week for Milford. He attracted headlines for the wrong reasons after he and teammate Josh Papalii were caught drinking two days before a round-25 clash against the Warriors in Auckland.
The Souths Logan junior is one of the favourites for NRL Rookie of the Year.
While it is his speed and footwork that has lit up the competition, Meninga has been impressed by his ability to play tough.
''The young kids at the club are real courageous players, that's what you want,'' he said.
''You can work on their talent and skills and mind, but they're fearless and that's what I like about them.''
Milford has a compassionate get-out clause in his contract, and Ayoub has written to the Raiders requesting a release.
Ferguson also had a clause allowing him to walk away should David Furner be axed as coach. Meninga believes inserting clauses is fraught with danger. He urged the Raiders to avoid that strategy in future.
''The players are putting clauses in their contract where the coach goes or family, fair dinkum,'' Meninga said.
''The club shouldn't be letting players sign contracts like that.
''You're always going to be compassionate to players and where they want to be, but the club needs to be compensated and looked after by the game if players do this.''
Prop Paul Vaughan was named rookie of the year after an impressive debut season, while Joel Edwards and Brett White shared the coach's award.