Legend of the lost legend: Anthony Milford is the Queensland great who never was

The old adage says that leaders are born, not made. But in rugby league, if somebody sticks around the same team for long enough they, by default, become something of an elder statesman, even if they don’t really seem suited to it. 

That’s how Cameron Munster and Anthony Milford, who are just 27, have ended up as senior men for Queensland and Samoa. They still seem younger than their years, but this is what growing up must feel like.

Munster will not captain the Maroons over in Perth on Sunday, but he doesn’t need to have the skipper’s armband to be the heartbeat of his state. Daly Cherry-Evans might be Queensland captain, but Munster is Queensland’s heart and soul.

Over the past three years, the same pattern has repeated itself. When Munster attacks the game, really goes after it, and does all the things that only he can do, then Queensland wins. When he doesn’t, they lose.

Munster plays with a furious intensity that can carry his side to victory. (Getty: Bradley Kanaris)

Like the best of the Maroons, Munster is becoming less of a footballer and more of a folk hero with every passing series. 

It’s why he’s on the fast track to join the Maroons pantheon, and why his state is always in with a chance whenever he’s on the field, no matter how lost the cause may seem.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Milford seemed destined to be like that.

In fact, he was meant to be like that before most of us had heard the name Cameron Munster. Nine seasons into his NRL career, Milford was not supposed to be a walk-up start for Samoa in their clash with the Cook Islands in Campbelltown, he was supposed be in Maroon in Perth.

A man tries to elude a defender during a rugby league match
Milford was subject to a tug-of-war between Samoa and Queensland, and he kept Munster on the bench for the latter. (Getty Images: Brett Hemmings)

During his first years in the NRL with the Raiders and his initial stint with Brisbane, Milford was a remarkable talent, not in the hustling, desperate way Munster is, where he will do anything and everything to chase victory — Milford played with a smooth, easy grace that made everything look easy.

He did not chase games, as Munster does, because he didn’t need to. They came to him. Everything came to him.

That style doesn’t always age so well, and it can be maddening when it stops working, but when it all came together it was the kind of football you dream about.

In the early days it was Milford, not Munster who was chosen for greatness. It was Milford who was pressured to leave Samoa aside so he could captain Queensland’s under-20s as the jewel of the young Maroons while Munster sat on the bench and hoped for the best.

Milford was the sure thing and Munster was the maybe, and everything that has happened to Munster since then was supposed to happen to Milford. 

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