Sharks reject Mills in 'better place'
As far as Stewart Mills was concerned, it was the perfect way to finish off an otherwise crappy year at the only club he ever wanted to play for.
The Cronulla junior won a premiership with the Sharks – albeit in the VB NSW Cup competition – alongside best mate Chad Townsend last season and then they both packed their bags seeking fresh starts; Mills at the Brisbane Broncos and Townsend at the Warriors.
With the spectre of the ASADA investigation hanging over the Sharks all year and an apparent inability to convince head coach Shane Flanagan that he was worthy of more than just the five NRL appearances he made in 2013, Mills conceded that it was a less than harmonious split from a club that had supported him through two knee reconstructions prior to making his first grade debut.
"It was quite a good feeling, standing on the stage holding that trophy up," Mills said of the Sharks' win over Windsor on NRL Grand Final day. "I guess winning any comp is a great feeling but being in Cronulla my whole life it was good to finally win a premiership, even though it was in the premier league. It was a good bunch of blokes in the premier league so I was happy to win a premiership with Cronulla, my local club.
"It was a good note to leave on at least.
"I did break in [to the NRL side] a couple of times but [Flanagan] was just giving me nothing really in the end. He just kept pushing me back out and we didn't really leave on good terms but it's for the good, he's probably pushed me to a better place."
Sensing that he was unwanted at the Sharks, Mills entered into talks with both Parramatta and St George Illawarra before Brisbane entered the frame. It's not been a move without difficulties – Mills fainted in oppressive heat at the club's first training session of 2014 – but one he believes has already brought rich rewards.
Mills and fellow Cronulla junior Chad Townsend have been best friends since they were seven years of age and played junior footy, under-20s, Junior Kangaroos and first grade together and are helping each other to adjust to the next stage of their careers.
"I talk to him every day," Mills said of Townsend who has traded in the Cronulla beaches for the delights of New Zealand and the Warriors. "He messages me every day and we always talk about how good the moves are, how training is and just how good the moves are for our lives in the end. We couldn't stay together forever so it's been good for both of us."
The long-term injury to Justin Hodges has opened up the right centre position for plenty of competition and the 2013 NSW Cup Centre of the Year knows that to secure the spot for Round 1 against the Bulldogs he has to start playing more like... well, himself.
When a 19-year-old Mills made his NRL debut in 2011 he raced 70 metres downfield with his first touch of the ball and scored a try in his side's win over the Roosters. It was a performance that Channel Nine commentator Phil Gould described as "one of the toughest and most competent first-grade debuts" he had ever seen.
The highlights reel of that game makes for a wonderful memento for his parents – "They've got a few copies of it I think" – but Mills himself is desperate to prove that he's no one-hit wonder.
"I had a lot to live up to the couple of weeks after that but hopefully I can get back to that form," the now 22-year-old said. "I was very fortunate to debut and have a game like that so hopefully I can get to that form again and keep producing it."