ANTHONY Milford has the talent to play State of Origin and Test football. But hard work — not innate skill — will determine how long he stays at the summit.
I’ve seen scores of players reach NRL level, and the higher echelons of representative football, by trading off their natural athleticism.
But I’ve seen none who reach true greatness, or enjoy sustained periods in Origin and Test teams, without exhausting every ounce of their athletic potential.
There is a saying that hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.
I hope it is a motto that Milford embraces as he enters the most important phase of his NRL career.
The Broncos five-eighth played his 99th NRL game against Canberra, and for many the 100-match milestone marks a critical juncture in a player’s attitude towards consistency and professionalism.
But after being blooded as an 18-year-old at Canberra, Milford has spent half a decade in NRL systems.
He has been around seasoned veterans like Corey Parker and Justin Hodges. He has been inculcated in the Broncos way.
Talking to people at the Broncos, Anthony is by no means a terrible trainer.
But there is probably another five per cent he can find within and that amount, however seemingly minute, is what separates the very good from the truly great in the cutthroat world of the NRL.
If Anthony wants to play Origin and Test football for a decade, he must constantly challenge himself in the same vein as Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith.
The naturally gifted accomplish difficult tasks so easily that sometimes, when obstacles are presented, finding the work ethic to push through adversity is not in their DNA.
The NRL is too advanced, too ruthless, too professional for poor trainers to flourish in the heat of battle.
Twenty or 30 years ago, it was possible to operate at 90 per cent of your ability and play representative football. Not anymore.
Milford can take inspiration from a former teammate of mine at the Broncos, Michael De Vere.
In my entire career, I never experienced anyone as dedicated as Mick. He was truly next level.
I remember rooming with him and he would set his alarm to go to bed. At 8.30pm, it was lights out. The alarm would ring at 5.30am and he would be up stretching.
After training, I would spend 20 minutes working on my goalkicking. Mick would be there for an hour. I ended up relinquishing the goalkicking duties to Mick.
De Vere was a good athlete but he wasn’t a naturally gifted footballer. But through his sheer will, by refusing to accept mediocrity, Mick became an Origin and Test footballer.
I’ve seen many players get better with age when the penny dropped that they simply needed to work harder. Exhibit A is Parker, who was magnificent in the latter half of his career, the byproduct of maturity and a commitment to training.
Anthony Milford is still a young guy and there is a wonderful opportunity for him to be the next long-term five-eighth for Queensland and Australia.
But talent will only take him so far.