Shock stats reveal demise of Broncos’ $4 million man
Broncos premiership-winning pivot Ben Ikin has questioned whether Anthony Milford still has the desire to be an NRL star as the crippling pressure of the five-eighth's $4 million deal was laid bare.
Milford has arrived at the last-chance saloon after being challenged by coach Kevin Walters to step up and snap Brisbane's 13-game losing streak in Saturday's showdown with Canterbury at Suncorp Stadium.
After a promising performance in Brisbane's Round 1 defeat to Parramatta, Milford was back to his worst in last week's loss to the Titans.
He lacked influence, execution and game awareness as the Titans targeted his suspect defence to rack up their third straight derby win against the Broncos.
Off-contract this year, Milford is facing a fight to remain at Red Hill beyond 2021 and his NRL career is on the line.
It has been a dramatic fall from grace for the 26-year-old after he was arguably the best player on the field in Brisbane's 2015 grand final loss to North Queensland and dominated again in 2016.
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Milford's rise resulted in the Broncos offering him a club record four-year contract worth $1 million-a-season in 2017, which he is now in the final season of.
Ikin wore the Broncos' famous No. 6 jersey in Brisbane's 2000 grand final triumph and said Milford lacked the commitment to dominate the NRL.
"I think Milford has ability, but I just don't know if he has the desire or the enthusiasm that maybe he had three or five years ago," he said.
"I honestly don't know anymore if Milford should be the dominant playmaker for the Broncos. After watching him in the 2015 grand final, he had the world at his feet. Since then, he hasn't gone to the next level and the Broncos paid him to go to the next level.
"When you get the big bucks, you have to make the right plays in the most important moments and the last few seasons, he has been averse to putting himself in those moments, let alone controlling them.
"I'm not saying Milford isn't capable. But I wonder whether or not his confidence is shot to the point where he doesn't believe he can do it.
"Brodie Croft (halfback) is in the same boat. He hasn't been going at it anywhere near as long as Milford, but he has been bought to own those moments, to manage that team, but he hasn't shown me enough either."
Despite being only 26, Milford has already played 182 NRL games, making him a vastly-experienced first grade playmaker.
But even into his ninth NRL season, he has been a reluctant leader on and off the field and shirked responsibility when the Broncos have needed someone to step up.
Milford is known to be a shy individual who, despite having an excellent understanding of the game, is reluctant to speak up in team meetings.
His teammates are in awe of his toughness, lauding his desire to play through injuries, but his training ethic has regularly been questioned.
It is no secret Milford prefers to play the game naturally as opposed to following strict structures, a philosophy he struggled to adopt under former coach Anthony Seibold.
But his moments of brilliance have been overshadowed by the times he goes missing when the Broncos need a matchwinner.
After joining the Broncos in 2015 from Canberra, Milford was at the peak of his powers, helping Brisbane to a grand final and building a reputation as one of the NRL's top five-eighths.
But a statistical analysis by Fox Sports Lab shows his performances plummeted after he inked the richest deal in Brisbane's 33-year history.
In 2015, Milford averaged a staggering 103m with the ball per game, insane numbers for a five-eighth.
That has steadily dropped every year since, Milford only registering an average of 46m during Brisbane's 2020 wooden spoon campaign.
He busted 100 tackles in 2015 and 94 in 2016, but that dropped to 66 in 2018 - the first year he earned $1 million.
Milford's creativity with the ball has also suffered a similar decline, with his line breaks, line break assists and try-assists steadily falling.
One of Walters' biggest challenges in his first year as an NRL coach is to crack the Milford code and premiership-winner Scott Sattler said a pay-cut could help.
"Possibly a reduced contract will help Milford," he said.
"It's never easy to perform when you are being paid $1 million and the expectation is that you win games every week.
"I have always thought Milford was a fullback. The No. 6 jumper comes with a lot of responsibility, so I don't think that is something that has sat comfortably with Anthony.
"He might say otherwise, but his body language tells me that he wants to be the kid in the backyard that's playing like Kalyn Ponga or Preston Campbell. He doesn't want structure, he wants to roam around the field and play what he sees.
"Maybe the Broncos need to find a way to alleviate the pressure on him.
"I don't think he needs a change of clubs, I think he needs a change of position. It comes down to the number on his back.
"Kevin Walters was a free spirit as a player himself so I think he understands the type of player that Anthony is.
"The challenge for the Broncos is to find a halfback that can ease the strain on Milford. If anyone can make Milf feel relaxed, it's Kevvie."
Milford's attacking brilliance has delivered the Broncos many victories, but it's his defensive fragilities Walters wants improved first given he is averaging five missed tackles a game this year.
If Milford can fix his defence that will go a long way to the Broncos succeeding and Walters said he wanted to see a different attitude against the Bulldogs.
"We have spoken about his defence," Walters said.
"Milf needs to be better and we need to be better across the park. He wasn't the only guy missing tackles, he needs to be better and we've had that conversation."
Originally published as Shock stats reveal demise of Broncos' $4 million man