As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our 'MVPs' for 2014.
After much to-ing and fro-ing, it now seems as though the homesick Anthony Milford is spending one more season in the nation's capital. This could either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on where his head is at, but given the outflow of talent from the Raiders backline in the form of the troubled pairing of Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan during 2013, the Green Machine can ill afford to have another dynamic young back walk out on the club at short notice.
Milford was one of the breakout stars of 2013, his nine tries and 12 line breaks in 18 games a feature of some of Canberra's more electric wins. His much-publicised desire to return to Queensland is a distraction the Raiders did not need, and the fact he has now signed with Brisbane for the 2015 season and beyond casts a huge question mark over where his focus and desire will be at over the course of 2014.
It all makes Milford a critical component of the Raiders' 2014 for several reasons. Firstly, as mentioned, even with their strong flow of promising juniors no club can afford to keep seeing representative quality outside backs depart in rapid succession. If Milford plays he is likely to start at fullback in a strong backline including centres Jarrod Croker and Jack Wighton, and wingers Reece Robinson and Edrick Lee. If Milford is out, Robinson is a fair replacement at fullback with the likes of Sami Sauiluma or Bill Tupou to come onto the wing, with youngsters such as fullback Jack Ahearn also in the frame. It's still a fair lineup but seems to lack the x-factor you need to threaten the best sides.
The other reason Milford is important is the question over team unity. It is well publicised that several senior players were unhappy with the leniency shown to the likes of Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson before they were eventually shown the door. Experienced prop Brett White recently told NRL.com there is a much better vibe around the club this year with everyone pulling in the same direction, so for Canberra it is vital Milford buys in to that. Obviously there are no behavioural concerns as there had been with other players, but his level of motivation in what will be his last season in Canberra will be critical to the team's success.
The Raiders need Milford producing exactly what he was producing last year – if he lets himself drift off with thoughts of his future career at Brisbane there is still the potential for him to become a disruption to team unity. On the other hand, if he is 100 per cent switched on then he can win games for Canberra almost single-handedly.
His versatility and playmaking skills could also prove vital if anything goes awry with skipper Terry Campese's notorious knees, while it's not unreasonable to suggest his recent success playing for Samoa in the Rugby League World Cup could help him take his game to yet another level – potentially making him one of the most dangerous players of 2014.
During that tournament Milford's 30 tackle busts ranked him behind only Kangaroo Greg Inglis (37) and Kiwi Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (31) and ahead of Aussie star Jarryd Hayne (26), despite his side only featuring in four games – two less than Australia and New Zealand. That kind of game-breaking ability could be just what the Raiders need in 2014.