A special talent just two days out of his teens has single-handedly dismantled the Gold Coast Titans' finals hopes as Anthony Milford engineered a 36-20 Canberra Raiders victory at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
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From the eighth minute of the game right through until the 76th the Titans had no answer for Milford's vast array of skills that included two tries, two try assists and numerous line-break assists that continually exposed a Titans defence supposedly fighting to save their season.
Although the Titans remain just two points outside the top eight heading into Round 19 their inferior for-and-against takes any chance of squeezing into the top eight out of their hands, needing to win six of their remaining eight games to be any hope.
Any thought of finals footy evaporated a number of weeks ago for the Raiders and a win that elevated them from the bottom rung of the ladder can't even point to a bright future with their main talisman committed to a move to the Broncos at the end of the year.
Having created the first try of the game for Brenko Lee and then scoring the second himself, Milford took a second half arm-wrestle by the scruff of the neck with the score delicately poised at 20-14 with less than 15 minutes remaining.
Although referees halted any momentum after a Milford line-break from a kick-return, three tackles later they extended their buffer to 12 points when hooker Glen Buttriss hit Shaun Fensom short 10m out from the Titans’ line and the lock forward powered through tackles of Beau Falloon and Dave Taylor to score under the posts.
Five minutes later Josh McCrone sparked a right-side raid through Jarrad Kennedy substituting in the centres for an injured Brenko Lee and then backed up an inside pass from Reece Robinson to score and Milford then fittingly had the final say.
Taking the ball around the ruck mid-field on the Raiders' side of halfway, Milford drifted left across field before putting Jarrod Croker into a hole and then when Croker was corralled in the corner by the Titans’ defence, Milford was on hand in support when the ball was flung in-field to score his second of the day.
The Milford’s display will have served as a dagger to the hearts of loyal Raiders fans who have just eight more games with the diminutive superstar at their club.
Following a conservative opening by both teams the Raiders got a shot in Titans territory on the back of a penalty and Milford came into his own. Sweeping across the right-hand side of the field Milford got on the outside of Maurice Blair and attracted Brad Takairangi before popping a flat flick-pass to Brenko Lee who charged back on the angle to score beside the posts and give the visitors the early advantage.
But perhaps befitting of a team trying to stay off the bottom of the ladder, Canberra back-rower Jarrad Kennedy could only watch on as the kick-off bounced over his head and into touch and then four minutes later spilt the ball 32m out under the weight of a heavy Paul Carter tackle.
Having squandered an earlier chance, the Titans finally found a way to create space for right centre James Roberts, a sweeping William Zillman putting him just on the outside of Croker which was more than enough to open the scoring for Gold Coast in the 15th minute.
Seven minutes later the Titans hit the lead with lead-up play that would have been in the running for try of the year had Kalifa Faifai Loa not been dragged down 10m short of the line. Attacking the Titans' line, Raiders skipper Terry Campese smashed a cross-field grubber kick behind the Titans' defence only to see Dave Taylor pick it up off his toes and set sail. He ran 80m before Campese reeled him in who the peeled off to tackle Faifai Loa. A penalty and restarted tackle count later, Taylor ran at a retreating Raiders defensive line and attracted both Croker and Sauiluma before flick-passing to an unmarked Faifai Loa who scored his first try as a Titan in characteristically flamboyant fashion.
But just as it appeared the Titans would take a narrow lead into the break, Milford struck twice in the space of six minutes with two brilliant pieces of play, the second sure to be shown on 2014 season highlight reels for years to come.
In the 32nd minute and on the back of another Titans penalty, Milford put Dane Tilse through a hole 10m out but rather than stretching out his 200-centimetre frame he instead looked for support, and found Milford who scored to the right of the posts.
But the best was yet to come.
The Raiders spun the ball across the Titans' 20m line in the 38th minute and with no time to react, Milford came up with a no-look tap-on that drew comparisons in commentary with the legendary Michael Jordan to send Croker on a scything run back through the Titans defence and under the posts for his 13th try of the year and a handy 20-10 lead at half-time.
Canberra Raiders 36 (Anthony Milford 2, Brenko Lee, Jarrod Croker, Shaun Fensom, Josh McCrone tries; Croker 6 goals) defeated Gold Coast Titans 20 (Kalifa Faifai Loa 2, James Roberts, Kevin Gordon tries; Gordon 2 goals). Crowd: 10,574.