MAROONS hopeful Anthony Milford has sought the counsel of master coach Wayne Bennett as the Raiders young gun looks to sidestep the perils of second-year syndrome.
The 19-year-old again demonstrated his rare talent in the opening round of the 2014 season, producing some freakish touches in Canberra’s frustrating 28-22 loss to the Cowboys in Townsville.
The Milford magic show began in the 10th minute when he zipped down the skinniest of blindsides to put Edrick Lee over. Within minutes, he was narrowly denied a four-pointer chasing through a grubber. There was a trysaving tackle on Kane Linnett, and he was a general menace to North Queensland from the backfield.
It was a highlights reel to leave Maroons coach Mal Meninga salivating, but Milford is determined to keep a lid on the hoopla.
He has not forgotten his emotional 2013 campaign, where his on-field brilliance was punctuated by off-field sagas including a contract battle and drinking alcohol two days before a game.
By season’s end, when he claimed Canberra’s player-of-the-year gong, the Queensland under-20s star admitted the pressures of life in the spotlight had led to his boozy night out in Auckland.
But Queensland’s Emerging Origin squad camp in January was an eye-opener for Milford. There he met program co-ordinator Bennett, who delved into his 30-plus years of coaching expertise to help prepare Milford for his toughest season yet.
“The Origin camp was awesome,” Milford said.
“I enjoyed being around the boys, but the big thing was having some good talks with Wayne Bennett.
“He helped me out heaps as well. It wasn’t just football. It was tough at times last year coming into the NRL.
“Wayne spoke to me about having fun and how important it is to have a balanced life.”
With his messy contract saga seemingly resolved, the Samoan World Cup star says he is unperturbed about the threat of second-season blues.
Many a rising star has set the code alight in his rookie year, only to crash-and-burn the next. At Canberra, utility whiz Mark McLinden never quite fulfilled the potential of his remarkable 1998 rookie season, and Milford is determined to avoid a similar fate.
Not for a second would anyone question Milford’s natural talent. But the Queensland Origin aspirants knows sustained success begins in the mind.
“I haven’t honestly thought about the second-year stuff,” he said.
“But in my head, I know I’m feeling a lot better than I did last year.”\
And while good judges believe it is only a matter of time before he breaks into the Origin arena, Milford admits he is prepared to be patient in his quest for a Maroons jumper.
“Origin hasn’t come across my head at the moment,” he said. “Obviously I would love to play it one day. Growing up, I loved watching Darren Lockyer (former Maroons skipper), but I will do my best for the Raiders this year and hopefully my form takes me where I want to go.”