If a list of the worst contracts in NRL history was to be made, Anthony Milford’s four-year extension in Brisbane will go down as potentially the poorest of the lot.
Well, it certainly hasn’t made Milford poor, but you get the idea.
A reported $1 million per year for each of the last four years, Milford was supposed to be the man to take Brisbane into the future and return them to the heights of their run to the 2015 grand final.
But it just hasn’t happened, and other clubs, including the Melbourne Storm, who were reported to be interested in Milford at the time of his last contract signing have probably been breathing a sigh of relief ever since.
While the whole plight of the Broncos can’t be blamed on Milford – a half might as well stay in the dressing rooms if the forwards are being rolled every week – he hasn’t made any improvements to the situation as a half on his sort of money should be able to do.
In saying that, all of Matthew Lodge, Payne Haas and Tevita Pangai Junior ran for more than 100 metres as the Broncos attempted to stick in the game.
At 26, the Broncos half is now one of the most experienced players in the Broncos line-up, and yet, based on last night’s effort in what was an eventual heavy loss to the high-flying South Sydney Rabbitohs, you could argue it was Milford’s influence which stunted Brisbane time and time again as they, at times, managed to match it with Wayne Bennett’s side.
To be fair, the Broncos were on the back foot for a large chunk of the game, but a period of the first half should have seen them put points on, only for Milford to constantly stunt their fifth tackle options.
Focusing on the first 40 minutes alone, and there were at least four or five occasions where Milford was almost the sole reason the set ended as it did, whether it was putting a kick dead, dying with it on the last or generally having poor communication.
For the man supposedly leading the Broncos attack, that simply isn’t good enough, and while he turned up in defence with some good tackles every now and again (although he missed five as well), that isn’t what he is in the team for, and nor was it going to make a difference when the inexperienced right side combination of Jordan Riki, Tesi Niu and Xavier Coates were guarding the most potent left edge in the competition.
It was an absolute bloodbath at times on that side of the park, with Alex Johnston’s try untouched the one highlight which you could point at to sum up Brisbane’s defensive communication.
And so, while all those issues will haunt the Broncos as they try to turn themselves from the 2020 wooden spooners into something better during this campaign, the first five rounds and last night’s effort have proven Milford just isn’t the man to carry them into the future.
When you begin a rebuild, the most experienced and highest-paid players need to be guys who are reliable and consistent from week to week.
While Milford may never have been that, the situation he is in is almost unwinnable, given the partners he has played alongside in the halves. He needs to play alongside an organiser, allowing him to run the ball at will, and he hasn’t had that in Brisbane.
Nonetheless, he stunted Brisbane badly last night, and it’s questionable whether Kevin Walters can wait until the end of the season to dispose of their million-dollar man.
Now that may seem harsh, but the Broncos need to look towards the future, and based on comments made in the media this week, it is becoming quite clear that Milford won’t be part of that vision.
Sure, it’s not exactly a great look to have the club’s most expensive player running around in reserve grade, but if Brisbane want to get anything out of this season which they can build on for 2022, then a halves combination of Tom Dearden and Brodie Croft, for example, may be the way to go.
It’s highly doubtful Milford is going to be dropped straight away, particularly given the opposition, but even in Round 3’s victory over the Bulldogs, he was uninspired for much of the contest, although the same could be said about most of his teammates.
In saying that, some of the stats are worrying if the eye test doesn’t tell you enough. 20 missed tackles in five games, only running 46 metres from his six attempts last night, no try assists since the opening game of the season, barely a line break to speak of. It paints a picture of a player who can’t play his role in the team, even if that role isn’t what he is designed for.
There is little doubt that Milford isn’t the only change the Broncos need to make. Walters has a stumbling, bumbling team on his hands who just aren’t in the battle most weeks.
While it’s hard to work out where the replacements are going to come from, the combination of Riki, Niu and Coates needs experience in a hurry, while Richie Kennar would have proven more useful as a turnstile last night. John Asiata has provided little off the bench, and in general, the work ethic and defensive structure of the side is missing.
Walters has a mountain of questions to answer, even if some of them almost don’t have an answer.
But the biggest among them regards Milford.
He has to be approaching his final warning in a contract year.