After a week of the long knives where the Brisbane Broncos came under attack from all quarters, it was five-eighth Anthony Milford who ultimately twisted the knife in a trademark display against the North Queensland Cowboys on Friday night.
After the poor display from the entire side against St George Illawarra, it was Milford and his halves partner Kodi Nikorima who copped plenty of heat for their lack of game smarts.
Milford was emphatic during the week about how he intended to reboot his running game against the Cowboys as a priority, and he delivered on his promise to help inspire a 24-20 win.
His 15 runs for 119 metres were impressive enough, but don’t encapsulate what Milford offered his team.
Several of those runs when the Broncos trailed 8-nil were decisive in giving his side momentum and ultimately belief.
When Milford plays what he sees and runs the ball, he ignites his teammates and the crowd, of which there were over 46,000 at Suncorp Stadium.
It is exhilarating to watch but Milford himself has acknowledged the need to improve the Broncos’ end to sets.
Plenty of work has gone into the halves kicking game in the pre-season and while there is still plenty of improvement left on that front, Milford showcased a couple of crucial kicks which gave the Broncos repeat sets in a see-sawing second half.
Match: Broncos v Cowboys
Round 2 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
- Nine Network
- LIVE PASS
Another went over the dead ball line towards the end of the match and it is those kind of lapses Milford intends to limit.
The 23-year-old does not relish the media spotlight which is relentless at the Broncos but he can be proud of the way he handled himself this past week.
On Tuesday, he fronted media and answered plenty of tough questions about the Dragons display, about the criticism he’d received and what he intended to do against the Cowboys.
He vowed that a different Broncos would be on show against North Queensland. Easy to say, but so hard to do.
He backed up those words with actions and was back post-match to talk to the press about the results.
"We spoke about that during the week Kodi and I, with Kevvie [Walters] and Wayne [Bennett], that our strength is our running game and that if we don’t bring that to the game there is not much else we do," Milford said.
"I thought we done that really well, controlled the team and kicked really well. I am pretty proud of our efforts.
"The big thing we worked on during the week was sharing the workload."
There was an air of inevitability about the final quarter of the match where Johnathan Thurston had played a key role in getting the Cowboys back to within striking distance of the Broncos.
With 90 seconds to go only a goalpost pad stopped Scott Bolton scoring the match winner off a Thurston pass.
Once again Thurston seemed about to will his side to another last gasp win.
Milford doesn't have that kind of aura about him and is a different style of player to Thurston, but also 11 years younger.
He will only improve with his ability to control a game.
Milford was asked after the game what it was like handling the expectations at the Broncos where, after a 12-year premiership drought, every loss is treated by the club's critics as a disaster.
"It comes as part and parcel of playing at the Broncos. It’s a big club and they demand success," he said.
"It was only round one. People were showing us the back door but I thought Kodi really stepped up.”
The duo will win games for Brisbane this year and they will do it in their own frenetic kind of way as they continue to work harder on game management.
Milford said the big thing the Broncos work on is being "above the line", a reference to words that are emblazoned across a wall in the club’s new gym.
The Brisbane five-eighth was certainly all that and more against the Cowboys. If the performance is a line in the sand for what to expect for the rest of the year then the Broncos, and Milford, will achieve above the expectations of those who believe they will not be a genuine premiership threat in 2018.