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Canberra Raiders remain hopeful of retaining star Anthony Milford, but coach Ricky Stuart says the young fullback is now being physically targeted by every NRL club too.
The Raiders are working behind the scenes recruiting third-party sponsors to try and entice Milford to remain in Canberra beyond this season, which would require him to back-flip on a two-year deal with the Brisbane Broncos.
Man in demand ... Canberra dynamo Anthony Milford. Photo: Graham tidy
Milford's family has relocated to Canberra for the season and the Raiders have another seven matches, until Round 13, to convince him to stay long-term.
There is growing optimism within Raiders ranks that Milford is reconsidering his move to Brisbane, with Canberra reportedly prepared to offer $1million a season.
Raiders chief executive Don Furner denied the club was building a war-chest of third-party sponsors to fight for Milford, but he said club was "hopeful" Milford would stay.
"We've just got to make sure we win, keep him happy and we'll see how we go," Furner said.
"The salary cap rules are a minefield in themselves so there's a lot that has got to be worked through there. We've just got to win some games, if he's comfortable, hopefully he'll change his mind."
While Stuart has refused to put pressure on Milford over his contractual situation, he said every club in the NRL would want to keep him.
"They're all looking for that X-factor, that's what wins the tight games ... Anthony's one of those players," Stuart said.
Stuart confirmed Milford, 19, had been playing on through a medial ligament injury for the past two weeks.
While Stuart down-played the seriousness of Milford's injury, he said it was a sign of Milford's commitment to Canberra this season. He also praised the teenager's ability to handle the mental and physical pressure he's currently under.
"Anthony's said it himself, that he's 100 per cent committed [this season]," Stuart said.
"It's not a major [injury] problem, there was a slight medial strain there a fortnight ago, the strapping probably looks a lot worse than what the injury is. It's not hampering him at all.
"He's a tough player, he's been getting a lot of attention on him over the last three or four weeks and he's getting some very heavy treatment on the ground that comes from being a great player ... for his size he's a tough kid."
Stuart even compared Milford to Australian fullback Billy Slater. The pair will clash on Sunday when the Raiders host the Melbourne Storm at Canberra Stadium, many tipping Milford could also be a bolter to join Slater in the Queensland Origin squad this year.
"I think Billy Slater's the type of player Anthony should model his game off,'' Stuart said. "They're very similar in ability. Billy Slater is – and has been – the most wonderful player.
"Billy would even agree early in the piece that he probably didn't handle it [the physicality] as well as Anthony is today when he first started. But he's learnt that through his maturity and he's a very tough fullback, Billy Slater."