QUEENSLAND selector Darren Lockyer has emerged as a pivotal figure in Anthony Milford’s form burst which has put the Broncos five-eighth in the frame for a State of Origin recall.
With the injury-hit Maroons having lost Andrew McCullough for Origin I and halfback Daly Cherry-Evans (ankle) racing the clock to prove his fitness, Milford has surged into contention for Queensland’s utility role for the series opener on June 5 at Suncorp Stadium.
Milford wore the No.14 jumper for Origin I last year and while he was overlooked for the final two games following Billy Slater’s return from injury, the Broncos dynamo’s recent form has impressed Queensland coach Kevin Walters.
Lockyer, indirectly, has been the key to Milford’s approach to the NRL this season.
The Broncos ace has produced man-of-the-match performances in recent wins over Cronulla and Manly and attributes his match-winning touches to greater maturity and trying to adopt Lockyer’s famed cool head in an on-field crisis.
“I’ve gotten better at handling the pressure now,” says Milford, who played his 150th first-grade game against the Sharks in Round 7.
“A couple of years ago, I would have handled things a lot differently to what I do now.
“The boys (at the Broncos) who played with ‘Locky’ talk about how calm he was.
“Whether Brisbane was up by six or down by six, it didn’t bother Locky. He was calm and talked about sticking to the process.
“That’s the big thing I’ve learned and I’m trying to put it in my game at the moment – being calm in every situation, staying in that good mindset and knowing it will pay off in the end.
“To be honest, I didn’t know the expectations on me would be this big. But that’s what comes with playing at such a successful club like the Broncos.
“My success starts at training. I’m doing everything I can to make myself the best player I know I can be.”
There is no bigger fan of Milford than Maroons coach Walters.
When Johnathan Thurston succumbed to a shoulder injury in 2017, it was Walters who pushed for Milford to make his Origin debut in Queensland’s heavy 28-4 loss to the Blues in Game One at Suncorp Stadium.
Two years on, Milford is a more mature playmaker and says he won’t let Queensland down if Walters gives him the nod.
“If I get the Queensland jumper, I will take it with two hands,” Milford said.
“In saying that, I have to keep working hard. I need some good performances for the Broncos.
“I’m not sure what I’ve learned (from his time in the Queensland teams). To be honest, I didn’t get much game time last year.
“I’m not getting too far ahead of myself, I will try to play consistent footy for the Broncos and let my performance speak for itself.”
Broncos coach Anthony Seibold was an Origin assistant to Walters when Milford was welcomed into Camp Maroon in 2017. Seibold believes Milford would relish a role as Queensland’s interchange X-factor.
“Certainly ‘Milly’ has a ton of ability,” Seibold said. “Kevvie used him as a five-eighth from memory a couple of years ago, and I can’t remember off the top of my head if he played again, but he would do the job if he was picked there for sure.”
Milford’s tactical kicking has improved out of sight in the past 18 months, making him the perfect interchange Mr Fixit for the Maroons.
“Three years ago when I lost Ben Hunt (to the Dragons), he was the dominant kicker in the side and I was more the runner,” Milford said.
“I think that kicking side of my game has evolved and a lot of credit goes to the coaching staff for the work they’ve done with me.”