Axed Brisbane five-eighth Anthony Milford insists he is not a spent force as an NRL playmaker and has pledged to fight to save his career at the Broncos, declaring: "I will be back".

As he prepares for his Intrust Super Cup debut for Souths Logan on Sunday, Milford has broken his silence on the toughest week of his NRL career, admitting hitting rock bottom could be the wake-up call that triggers his fightback as Brisbane's matchwinner.

Milford also opened up on savage criticism of his form, addressed reports his $1 million-a-season contract is a burden and hit back at claims that he has lost his way in the NRL because he is a lazy trainer.

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Broncos coach Kevin Walters dropped a bombshell on Monday, drawing a cultural line-in-the-sand by dropping Milford for the first time in his 185-game first-grade career.

It is a dramatic fall from grace for Milford, who has gone from Brisbane's highest-paid player to Millionaire Magpie for the clash against Norths Devils at Davies Park, but the fallen NRL star refuses to be bitter.

Anthony Milford has vowed to fight his way back into the Broncos’ starting side. Picture: Tara Croser
Anthony Milford has vowed to fight his way back into the Broncos’ starting side. Picture: Tara Croser

"I haven't been up to the standards that I set myself and Kevvie's as well," Milford said in the only interview on his Broncos axeing. "The truth is I need to be better. I have to be accountable."

THE AXING

When Milford reported for Broncos training last Monday, he wasn't bracing for the axe.

While Brisbane had been beaten 35-6 by Souths, coach Walters defended Milford in the post-match press conference, declaring it was his "best game" of the season as he lauded his courage in defence.

Then the pair sat down for their weekly video analysis of his performance. His kicking and last-play options were erratic.

Walters told Milford he was sending him back to the Intrust Super Cup. The words were a knife to the heart. "I didn't know what to expect," Milford said.

 

"We went through the video and he pointed out some things in my game I wasn't doing well. I agreed. To hear I was dropped ... it was tough. I've never been in a position to hear those words, but I have to get over the fact I've been dropped and use it as a positive.

"I've always been a team-first player so whatever he thought was best for the team, I'll accept it. While it's disappointing, I'm hoping it's a blessing in disguise."

THE MAGPIES

Milford is not the first big-name star to be demoted to Queensland's second-tier competition.

In 2014, Queensland Origin hitman Josh Papalii was sensationally axed by Canberra coach Ricky Stuart and sent to the Magpies. Papalii fought back to be the NRL's No.1 prop.

Almost seven years to the day that Papalii debuted for Souths Logan, Milford will run onto the same patch of turf at Davies Park to commence his own NRL resurrection.

"I have some mixed emotions," Milford said. "Some nerves, but some excitement, too.

"I'm going to have a lot of family and friends coming to support me so I'm looking forward to playing some football.

"I am pretty keen to get back to a club where I played Cyril Connell and Mal Meninga Cup. It's not a new club for me. I will be going back to see some familiar faces and it's a club I love because that's where I started out.

"One thing I'm excited about is playing with Karmichael (Hunt, Souths Logan centre). Souths have a few ex-NRL players, Albert Kelly and Kevin Locke are there, so when I went to training on Wednesday it opened my eyes up to the quality of players there."

 

THE FUTURE

There is a view the Broncos have run out of patience with Milford, who turns 27 in July. When he signed the club's first $1 million deal in 2017, he was hailed as the playmaking maestro who would deliver Brisbane's seventh premiership.

The Broncos are still waiting for Milford to take them to the promised land. Now, he is off-contract. There is talk that Kotoni Staggs, also off-contract, has been offered the No.6 jumper as a carrot to stay at the Broncos next season, further clouding Milford's future.

A fortnight ago, Walters indicated Milford wasn't playing well enough to earn a new contract. Facing a likely pay cut of at least $500,000, Milford insists he has no bad blood with Walters and will use his Magpies demotion as motivation to clinch a new deal at Brisbane.

"I'll be honest, I'm not too sure what my future is at the Broncos," he said. "It's out of my control really. I'm leaving the contract stuff to my manager and we'll see what happens.

Anthony Milford is facing a big pay cut on his next NRL deal. Picture: Scott Davis/NRL Photos
Anthony Milford is facing a big pay cut on his next NRL deal. Picture: Scott Davis/NRL Photos

"In an ideal world, I want to stay. That's what I hope. But I understand the Broncos have a lot of players off-contract and it's hard to keep everyone.

"But just because I've been dropped, I'm not going to be one of those players who jumps on the phone straight away wanting a release.

"Kevvie has reassured me as well that he hasn't given up on me. He told me to go and enjoy myself in Queensland Cup, get some confidence from playing there and then see how I go and try and find my way back into the team.

"I've copped it. I have to be better. I know there is a lot of noise around me, but I know I'm not done. I will be back."

THE CONTRACT

Milford's $1 million salary has been one of the most criticised and scrutinised contracts in NRL history.

The Broncos have been pilloried for the deal but at the time Milford was among the NRL's rising stars after almost winning the Clive Churchill Medal at age 21 in the 2015 grand final. He was so in-demand that the Storm hired a private jet for him to meet for talks with Melbourne super coach Craig Bellamy.

Shy and private, Milford has never been comfortable with constant chatter about his salary. While the $1 million deal is seen as a burden on him, Milford says there are other factors attached to performing at the Broncos.

 

"I don't look at my contract like that (a burden)," he said.

"It's the nature of the beast. The scrutiny is what comes with playing football at this level.

"I am at a pretty powerful club at the Broncos and there is always a big focus on us. The Broncos expect to be in the finals every year and they expect to be winning more games than they lose. The year we made the grand final, it was a huge confidence thing for me.

"As a group, we had built a lot of momentum and there was a lot of self-belief and the team gave me the confidence to back myself. I did things that season that I didn't think I was capable of doing because the self-belief in the team was so strong.

"For whatever reason over the past two or three years, I haven't been able to perform consistently. It has affected my confidence."

THE CRITICS

Milford is one of the most maligned playmakers in the code. NRL Immortal Andrew Johns and Penrith playmaking great Greg Alexander have been particularly scathing of him.

It is said the roots of Milford's inconsistency on the field stem from his application off it. There are suggestions he is a lazy trainer who doesn't have the competitive drive of a Johnathan Thurston. Few see the street-fighter in Milford. Three years ago, he played three months with a busted shoulder that needed surgery.

Anthony Milford admits he’s not the best trainer but he makes an effort every week. Picture: Liam Kidston
Anthony Milford admits he’s not the best trainer but he makes an effort every week. Picture: Liam Kidston

When he broke his hand at training in February, he insisted on playing Brisbane's final trial against the Cowboys. Walters overruled him.

"I know it's been said a few times (that he is a poor trainer), but that's simply not true," he said. "Look, I'm not the best trainer at the club but I make an effort.

"I've always felt I'm a better player than a trainer. There have been a lot of great players over the years who weren't the best trainers.

"One thing I know is I do care. I care a lot about winning games for the Broncos. Every game I go out there wanting to win. I'm not one to blame anything or anyone else for what's happened. I'm not using injuries as an excuse.

"I'm not too sure how long I'm going to be at Souths Logan, but I want to get back in that Broncos jumper."

 

Originally published as 'I'm not done': Milford vows to fight back from rock bottom