by Peter Badel
ANTHONY Milford has vowed to step up as Brisbane's main man next season and believes the return of mentor Kevin Walters can help him become Johnathan Thurston's Origin successor.
In his first interview since undergoing shoulder surgery six weeks ago, Milford spoke candidly about his growing responsibility as he confronts the most important season of his NRL career in 2018.
The 23-year-old outlined plans to be more consistent in the famous Broncos No. 6 jumper, his desire to return to the Queensland Origin fold and the pressure on Brisbane to break a 12-year premiership drought.
"I'd love us to have a red-hot crack at the title next year," Milford said.
MILFORD is forever indebted to the Broncos for handing him a club-record four-year, $4 million deal in May. But with the big bucks comes big expectations.
The quick-stepping Broncos pivot endured a rollercoaster 2017. He had some superb individual games and it led to his much-vaunted Origin debut for the Maroons.
But there were also queries about his work ethic off the field, not to mention a shoulder injury which he carried through the final three months of the season.
Milford enters his fourth full season for Brisbane - and sixth overall - in 2018 and the former Raiders whiz-kid admits that, after 118 NRL games, it is time to produce a Thurston-like consistency.
"Personally, I need to step up and be more consistent on a week-to-week basis," he said.
"The players we have in our squad can help me do that.
"That's the main thing I need to address. I think part of that inconsistency comes down to my training. I need to work harder at training and if I do that, I believe it will pay off for me on the field.
"I need to be more consistent in my performances. I want to get more hands-on with the ball, but I don't want to take too much control off Kodi (Nikorima) as the other half.
"I don't want him being put off his game with me getting the ball too much and overcalling him. If he sees an opportunity I want him to take it, but I've been at Brisbane for three years now. I want to repay Brisbane for their faith in me."
IN June, Milford suffered a labral tear to his left shoulder - the same injury that threatened the career of Maroons champion Billy Slater.
He required a reconstruction, the second shoulder operation Milford has undergone after a procedure he had as a teenager at Canberra.
Now out of a sling, Milford is hopeful of being fit for Round 1 but admits he won't be taking any unnecessary risks in his comeback.
"It's been a pretty tough recovery. It was a big operation," he said.
"I want to be fit for Round 1, but it's important I don't rush it.
"It was pretty painful at times last year, but I got through it.
"The physios and Jeremy (Hickmans, high-performance chief) looked after me between each game. I eased off the weights and they strapped me up tight.
"I've just been rehabbing it the best I can. There's no after-effects, fingers crossed. But if it's not right for Round 1 or Round 2, I will hold off and be honest with Wayne (Bennett, coach) and take my time so I don't injure it again."
MILFORD was 12 years old when the Broncos last won the premiership in 2006.
A year later, the Logan prodigy was snapped up by the Canberra Raiders and fast-tracked to NRL stardom in the nation's capital.
In the 2015 grand final between the Broncos and the Cowboys, Milford was the best player on the park before Thurston's extra-time heroics denied him the Clive Churchill Medal.
The pain still lingers and Milford wants to emulate Broncos premiership-winning skipper Darren Lockyer by becoming the next five-eighth to steer Brisbane to a title.
"My big goal is to win a comp for the Broncos this year," he said.
"We were pretty close there in 2015, so I want us to get there again.
"It's in the back of my head what happened a few years ago and how much that hurt.
"Every year you want to win a comp and you work your butt off in the pre-season to try and achieve that. I want us to build something special. I can feel something special building in this squad and I have to play my role in that."
THE KEVVIE FACTOR
QUEENSLAND coach Walters handed Milford his Origin debut in last season's series opener. Now Walters is back as an assistant at Red Hill and Milford believes he can help him produce the form that rubberstamps him as Queensland's answer to life after Thurston.
"Having Kevvie back will be a huge thing for the halves and myself," he said.
"I like working with Kev. He understands my game. He has been in the halves and he knows how important it is for the playmakers to be on their individual game to take control of a game.
"I would love to be back in Origin. I loved every minute of that first game. I didn't get another game but I hope to be back there again this year.
"I want to get that feeling of playing for Queensland again but I know there is a process I have to go through. I have to make sure I'm doing everything right on the field for the Broncos and that I'm consistent week in and week out."
MILFORD and Ben Hunt were hailed by Wayne Bennett as Brisbane's best halves duo since Allan Langer and Walters.
Now the partnership is over, with Hunt joining the Dragons next season on a massive $6 million deal.
If Milford is fit, they will square off in Round 1.
"It will feel weird facing Hunty," he said.
"I have a lot of respect for Hunty and the things he did here at the club and for me. It will be strange crossing paths for the first time but I'm excited for the challenge and I can't be critical of what he has done.
"I saw us being together for a long time but he had to do the best thing by his family.
"I'm happy for him ... I hope he rips it up for St George Illawarra."