Magic man... Raiders star Anthony Milford put on an attacking clinic against the Titans on Sunday afternoon. Credit: Charles Knight. Copyright: NRL Photos.
When a 19-year-old Anthony Milford expressed a desire to extricate himself from the final year of his contract with the Canberra Raiders in order to be closer to his ill father in Brisbane, those who had heard previous convenient excuses from other sports stars rolled their eyes.
On the surface it appeared just the latest request from an exceptional talent to manoeuvre out of one contract and into a more lucrative one, in Milford's case to a Brisbane Broncos organisation seeking to reclaim former glories.
But with a five-star display against the Titans on Sunday that only 10,574 paying NRL fans can say that they saw in person yet many more will claim they witnessed, Anthony Milford showed just how much strength he draws from those closest to him.
Ironically, Milford's father Halo had to stay behind in Canberra but his mother and extended family were on hand to inspire a freakishly gifted rugby league player to one of the finest performances of his young career.
"I think that gave me extra motivation, knowing that Mum and the family were there watching me," Milford said, handing the Broncos a blueprint to extracting his seemingly limitless potential when he joins the club in 2015.
"I don't want to let them down and want to entertain them as best I can and I think today was the perfect way to do that."
Titans coach John Cartwright revealed after the match that he and his coaching staff had spent much of their week preparing for how to stop a player they viewed as the key to the Raiders' attack. Yet from the eighth minute when Milford laid on the opening try for Brenko Lee Cartwright watched on in horror as one man dismantled his side's finals aspirations.
Milford scored twice himself and laid on another spectacular try for Jarrod Croker with a no-look tip-on, each magical moment bringing both joy and heartache to Canberra fans who have just two more months to revel in his brilliance before he heads north.
"He just provides that bit of class. He turns maybe a try-scoring position into a try-scoring position," Cartwright said.
"The majority of points that they score come off him so there was nothing there that they did that we certainly didn't watch and weren't ready for. He was just too good. Like I say, they're sure going to miss him because he creates a lot of points."
A look at the key playmakers in the competition further emphasises Cartwright's point and puts Milford among the top echelon of players with point-scoring influence.
Of the 54 tries the Raiders have scored through 18 rounds, Milford has either scored or been credited with a try assist for 31 per cent of Canberra four-pointers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cowboys five-eighth Johnathan Thurston tops the list at 38 per cent closely followed by superstar fullbacks Jarryd Hayne and Brett Stewart (each 35 per cent).
But when he got to spend time in the company of a Maroons team laden with superstars ahead of Origin II, the quiet kid from Samoa went missing. At least that was the impression of Titans co-captain Nate Myles.
"He's a quiet dude," Myles said in the immediate aftermath of a disappointing loss. "Most guys when they come into camp for the first time are pretty quiet but I didn't even notice he was there some days.
"He's just a quiet fella and obviously we know how good he is, he's a good dude."
Although he would be at the top of every NRL scout's shopping list and command a price tag few could match, Milford wants to get better. He says he needs to work on his kick returns and each week challenges himself to better the metres he is credited with making and, more than anything else, he wants the Raiders club and their fans to know, when he departs at the end of the season, that he gave them their all.
"It's a tight-knit group and the brotherhood we have here is unexplainable. Through the tough times everyone is helping out each other and I think that's showing out n the field as well," Milford said.
"I guess knowing that I put in 100 per cent with every performance that I had. I put my best foot forward for all the boys and leave no stone unturned. I just want them to know I'd do anything for them I guess."