Canberra whiz kid Anthony Milford gave Queensland rugby league fans a dress rehearsal of the treat in store for them next year with a majestic two-try display in Canberra's 36-20 win on the Gold Coast on Sunday.
The fullback, who turned 20 during the week, simply toyed with the Titans with his array of tricks to help Canberra break a four-game losing streak, and extend Gold Coast's home drought to six games.
It was just Canberra's sixth win of the year, and allowed them to move one step closer from avoiding the wooden spoon after entering the match equal last on the table with Cronulla and Newcastle.
Gold Coast was just two points outside the top eight, and a horror defensive display could prove fatal to its finals hopes. Injury-plagued playmaker Albert Kelly also limped off with a leg injury to compound the loss.
Canberra's win was soured by a second half leg injury to teenage centre Brenko Lee, adding to the club's already long casualty ward in the outside backs.
It was over in the blink of an eye, but one moment of brilliance just before half-time encapsulated exactly why Brisbane Broncos fought so hard to sign Milford for the next two seasons.
About to be crunched by a defender, Milford batted a ball to centre Jarrod Croker who strolled through the flabbergasted Titans untouched to give Canberra a 20-10 advantage at the break.
Known for his quick feet, it was his lightning hands which provided the highlight in a match where he officially came of age.
If he wasn't scoring tries or making breaks he was creating them with slight of hand in his best performance of his fledgling career so far.
Unfortunately for Canberra and their fans, Milford will be weaving his magic at Suncorp Stadium instead of at Bruce next year.
Coach Ricky Stuart forecast the announcement of some player signings this week, but anyone brought in will struggle to match Milford's x-factor.
Canberra opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Milford got on the outside of his man and offloaded to Lee playing his first NRL game at centre, who scored his third try in two games.
But after a couple of Raiders handling errors coming out of their own danger zone, livewire Titans centre James Roberts crossed out wide to reduce the deficit to 6-4.
In the 23rd minute Gold Coast giant David Taylor turned defence into attack, plucking a Terry Campese grubber and ran 70 metres before offloading to Kalifa FaiFai Loa, who was dragged down by Campese.
However the Titans eventually scored, Taylor taking advantage of a size mismatch with Raiders centre Jarrod Croker down the blindside to offload to an unmarked FaiFai Loa and give the hosts a 10-6 lead.
But another piece of Anthony Milford brilliance restored Canberra's lead 12-10. The fullback put prop Dane Tilse through a hole close to Gold Coast's try line, before Tilse offloaded back to Milford for the try.
Croker, also sensational throughout, added a penalty goal soon after to extend the Raiders lead to 14-10.
Milford's magic extended it to 20-10 at the break. Gold Coast were denied a chance to get back into the game on 55 minutes when video referee Bernard Sutton ruled centre Brad Takairangi knocked on trying to regather his own kick.
Titans winger Kevin Gordon set up a grandstand finish when his try in the corner reduced the gap to 20-14 with 25 minutes left.
Late tries to Shaun Fensom, Josh McCrone and Milford sealed just Canberra's sixth win of the year.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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