Johns says Milford has a new drive and focus. Image: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Johns says Milford has a new drive and focus. Image: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Johns: Milford can be new Thurston

The former NSW Origin star hired by the Broncos to mentor Anthony Milford says Brisbane's playmaking ace is ready to dominate the NRL and have the same impact as Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston.

Playmaking consultant Matthew Johns has put Brisbane's premiership rivals on notice, declaring Milford is primed for the most electrifying season of his NRL career.

Placed in cotton wool for the entire pre-season, Milford will make his much-vaunted return from a hamstring injury in Thursday night's Broncos-Storm season-opening blockbuster at AAMI Park.

 

 

In a bid to extract the best of his playmaking spine, Broncos coach Anthony Seibold sent Milford, Darius Boyd, Andrew McCullough and Kodi Nikorima to Sydney over summer to work closely with former Origin and Test pivot Johns.

Johns said he was particularly impressed by Milford, insisting the 24-year-old was reaching a critical mid-point of his career where his talent and desire would combine to make him as dominant as retired champion Thurston.

 

Johns says Milford has a new drive and focus. Image: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Johns says Milford has a new drive and focus. Image: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

 

"I can see it in Anthony Milford's eyes - he is going to take the NRL by storm this year," Johns said.

"There was a saying in the game that front-rowers and halves get better with age and we seem to have forgotten that.

"It took Thurston a long time to become the wonderful champion he became.

"It wasn't until 'JT' started to approach his late 20s that he peaked and went 'bang' and Anthony Milford is on that same path of development.

"Anthony has copped some criticism over his consistency, but I hope Brisbane fans show patience, because 'Milf' and Kodi Nikorima are coming into their peak years and they can dominate the game for a long time."

 

Thurston was already becoming one of the greats at this stage of his career.
Thurston was already becoming one of the greats at this stage of his career.

 

Queensland Origin whiz Milford turns 25 in July, and plays his 144th top-grade game against the Storm.

At the same age, Thurston had played 114 games - 30 fewer than Milford - but had fashioned a formidable record, winning a premiership at Canterbury in 2004 and two of his four Dally M Medals in 2005 and 2007.

Milford went within a whisker of winning the Clive Churchill Medal in Brisbane's 2015 grand-final loss to the Cowboys.

While there have been question marks over his work ethic at training, Johns is adamant Milford possesses a Thurston-like hunger to succeed.

 

The 24-year-old by the the focal point of Anthony Seibold’s Broncos. Image: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
The 24-year-old by the the focal point of Anthony Seibold’s Broncos. Image: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

 

"I have always looked at Anthony from a distance and thought he was a laid-back caracter, but he is serious about wanting to get better," Johns said.

"Working with him in pre-season, he was tremendous.

"I didn't realise how much he thinks about the game, how earnest he is and how determined he is for self-improvement.

"One of the things I look for when I coach a player is whether they care.

"Anthony Milford cares. His career means a lot to him. Now that he understands the art of good playmaking, we are going to see something special."

Broncos coach Anthony Seibold has moved to temper the hype around Milford, describing him as one of four key pillars in Brisbane's premiership tilt.

"It's probably unfair to single out 'Milly', but he has had a good pre-season," he said.

"He could have played the Titans trial but we made a decision that was the best one for the team (to rest his injured hamstring).

"The responsibility of our team doesn't just rest on him but being in the spotlight as a seven or six, he and Kodi have to take some responsibility, (and) so does the rest of our spine in Andrew McCullough and Darius Boyd.

"We have worked really hard on those four guys with how they play their footy. Anthony is a player with tremendous ability and talent and I want to see that this season."