Gold Coast 20 Canberra 36
NRL round 18: Gold Coast Titans v Canberra Raiders
Anthony Milford of the Raiders scores a try. Photo: Getty Images
- As it happened: Titans v Raiders
- What we learned: Titans v Raiders
- White's omission tactical: Stuart
It was over in the blink of an eye, but one moment of brilliance in Canberra's 36-20 win on the Gold Coast showed why Brisbane Broncos fought so long to sign whiz kid Anthony Milford. About to be crunched by a defender on Sunday, Milford batted a ball to centre Jarrod Croker, who strolled through the flabbergasted Titans untouched to give Canberra a 20-10 advantage at the break.
It was a piece of brilliance the 20-year-old himself could scarcely believe he had pulled off, raising his arms in triumph as Croker crossed.
After his virtuoso performance, Milford was asked whether he was pleased with his game.
"Yeah, in patches, [but] I've still got a lot to work on,'' he deadpanned after his stunning two-try display helped the Raiders snap a four-game losing streak and take a giant leap towards avoiding the wooden spoon.
As far as understatements go, this is in the grand final. The only patch Milford put together was a purple one as he set up tries, created breaks and simply toyed with the Titans all match.
If he wasn’t scoring tries or making breaks, he was creating them with sleight of hand and finished with four line-break assists and a try assist to complement his two four pointers.
Unfortunately for Canberra and its fans, Milford will be weaving his magic at Suncorp Stadium the next two seasons instead of at Bruce.
Coach Ricky Stuart forecast the announcement of some player signings this week, but anyone brought in will struggle to match Milford’s X-factor.
Milford said the presence of his family in the stands, bar his ill father back in Canberra, inspired him to the best performance of his fledgling NRL career. "That gave me extra motivation, knowing my mum and family were there. I don't want to let them down and I want to entertain them as much as possible,'' he said.
Mission accomplished. He helped snap Canberra's four-game losing streak with just a fifth win of the year, and the Raiders moved two points ahead of Cronulla in the race to avoid the wooden spoon.
"I guess [I want to leave Canberra] with the fans knowing I've put 100 per cent into every performance, and I want them to know I'd do anything for them,'' Milford said.
And his Croker try assist?
"I just practise a lot at training and it's an instinct thing; he's usually on my hip,'' he said. "I was just happy he got over the line. And it was tough seven weeks for us, to get a win like that and prove ourselves.''
It was also the perfect birthday present for Milford, who turned 20 this week.
He will be sorely missed by a Raiders side lacking in other striker weapons, but Stuart said re-signing announcements could be in store in the next fortnight. "We've got a plan, we haven't just found out [he's leaving].
"I'd like to think there's some good news ahead, but today is more about the players here at the moment than that. I'm happy for the players because they've really stuck solid and kept faith in one another because there's been a lot of criticism, a lot of bagging of individuals and the group.
"As a coach, I'm happy for them because they get a bit of joy back in their lives."
Gold Coast remains two points outside the top eight after a sixth-straight home loss.
Titans skipper Nate Myles said Milford's display was ''probably the best I've seen'', before adding he was joking. Initially, it was difficult to tell whether he was serious or not, such was Milford's dominance.
Canberra's win was soured by a torn hamstring to teenage centre Brenko Lee, who is set to miss two to four games.
Gold Coast full-back William Zillman suffered a similar injury and could face time on the sidelines.
The Titans got back into the match with a try to Kevin Gordon midway through the second half, but on the back of a dominant display by their forwards, Canberra scored three tries to put the match to bed.
CANBERRA RAIDERS 36 (Anthony Milford 2, Brenko Lee, Jarrod Croker, Shaun Fensom, Josh McCrone tries; Croker six goals) bt GOLD COAST TITANS 20 (Kalifa Faifai Loa 2, James Roberts, Kevin Gordon tries; Gordon 2 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday. Crowd: 10,925. Referees: Jared Maxwell and David Munro.