Most exciting halves since Langer, Walters: Bennett
Wayne Bennett believes Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford are the most exciting halves pairing the Broncos have seen since the golden years of Allan Langer and Kevin Walters.
Bennett was full of admiration for his young halves after they both starred in Brisbane's 42-16 trouncing of the Wests Tigers on Sunday which keeps them on top of the Telstra Premiership ladder.
The master coach can foresee the pair filling a void at the Broncos which has troubled the club since Langer and Walters last played together over 16 years ago.
Brisbane won four premierships with the Ipswich pairing at the helm, although they were eventually broken apart due to Langer's brief retirement midway through the 1999 season.
The Broncos coach also boldly declared that the lack of an establish halves pairing following the retirements of Langer and Walters had cost the club further premiership glory.
Bennett pulled no punches when asked post-match whether 25-year-old Hunt and 21-year-old Milford are the most exiting Broncos' halves pairing since Langer and Walters, who are now assistant coaches at the club.
"There's no doubt about that," Bennett said.
"We struggled and it cost us a couple of premierships in the 2000s without a halfback. We always had 'Locky' [Darren Lockyer] but he was made into a five-eighth in the end – a very, very good one so that wasn't the issue – but we did really struggle in the halves.
"We had Scott Prince who had a tragic injury (broken leg) here and that never worked out for us and we always battled to get the halfback and five-eighth combinations right.
"When [Hunt and Milford] came together this year I thought the Broncos have seven or eight years in front of them knowing that they've got a very stable halves combination.
"I'm not saying they will but the hallmark of the 1990s was Kevin and 'Alf' [Langer] and these two guys are extremely talented in different ways to Kevin and Alf but they bring a lot to the team.
"They aren't at their prime yet and are only starting to get an idea for it."
After Langer left the club Walters took over the captaincy and halfback duties, leading the club to a premiership in 2000 with 23-year-old Ben Ikin at five-eighth.
Lockyer's transition from fullback to five-eighth at the beginning of 2004 alleviated some of Brisbane's playmaking concerns but they still struggled to find a suitable and successful combination.
Prince, Peter Wallace, Ben Walker, Brett Seymour, Shaun Berrigan and Shane Perry are just some of the halfbacks used by Brisbane since 2001, although Langer was lured back for a final fling in 2002.
Perry played alongside Lockyer during the club's most recent premiership success in 2006 but failed to establish himself thereafter.
Bennett lauded both of his current playmakers after they engineered Brisbane's blistering first-half display where they piled on five tries to set up a 26-0 half-time lead against the Tigers.
"I thought our halves were fantastic. Some of Milford's work was absolutely class as well – the short passing, clever kicks, jinking runs and setting up supports," he said.
"He's a talented football player and always has been – he's a great recruit for the club.
"When I first saw him a couple of years ago I couldn't believe how talented he was. I didn't even know he existed until I saw an under-20s game somewhere and this kid was running rings around everybody.
"I never thought I'd get the opportunity to coach him but I'm elated I have."
While not keen to focus solely on individual performances, Bennett also lavished praise on Hunt who had a major role to play in winger Lachlan Maranta's opening try with a weaving 40-metre run early in the first half.
"Ben was a bit of an enigma for me when I was last here as coach because he came into the club when the under-20s started (in 2008) so I never really coached him until this year," he said.
"I like coaching him – he's a good bloke and he wants to be better and I want him to be better and that's the journey we're all on."
Hunt's early line break enabled the nuggetty halfback to finish the Round 19 clash with 118 metres from 13 runs with seven tackle breaks, two offloads and a try assist.
The Blackwater Crushers junior credited his mazy sixth-minute run down to a mid-week chat with Walters.
"Kevvie was into me all week about having a few more runs and I thought I'd take the line on," Hunt said.
"That's a strong part of my game and he sat me down and said I need to run the ball more in each half."
Echoing the sentiments of Bennett, Hunt believes his combination with Milford can only get better with time.
"I wouldn't say [our combination] has developed yet," he said.
"It's getting better each week obviously but we've got a little while to go yet.
"'Milf' is playing some great football which is helping the whole team out and I think we'll keep improving."