Milford Magic has Broncos off and running
ANTHONY Milford has illustrated why he is Brisbane's magic man, producing his trademark fancy footwork to stun Cronulla on the opening night of their title defence.
If there were any concerns about life at the Broncos without retired skipper Corey Parker, Milford provided an emphatic answer as his disco dancing left the Sharks in a spin.
In a spirited NRL season-opener before 11,493, Milford was the difference, scoring the match-winner 10 minutes from time to open Brisbane's account with a 26-18 win at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
But the Broncos had some nervous moments, almost squandering a 20-6 lead after a second-half siesta that opened the door for a Cronulla fightback.
The visitors were teetering when Cronulla centre Ricky Leutele crashed over in the corner to whittle Brisbane's lead to 20-18 with 20 minutes to play.
With Brisbane desperately searching for inspiration, the Broncos pivot answered the call, taking the ball from a Ben Hunt switch of play before stepping past two defenders to sink the Sharks.
It was precisely the type of direct play Broncos coach Wayne Bennett will demand from his playmakers this season as Brisbane look to shatter an 11-year title drought.
Milford was ably supported by new skipper Darius Boyd, who set-up two tries to give the Broncos the perfect start they craved.
"Milf got better as the game went on, he took it upon himself to do something," Boyd said.
"We were definitely scrappy in key parts, we panicked a bit at times, so it was good to get the victory in the end."
While Milford was electric, his scrumbase partner Hunt was erratic, kicking poorly and committing a second-half play-the-ball gaffe which led to Leutele's try.
Overall, it was an impressive first up display from the Broncos. Premierships aren't won in March, but wins like this can shape seasons and Bennett will be pleased with the constitution of his revamped forward pack.
At lock, Josh McGuire was tireless, while new recruit Korbin Sims ran with purpose as the Broncos turned the screws on an error-riddled Sharks side.
"I was pleased with our refusal to give in. Our ball control won us the game, we had one error in the second half," Bennett said.
"I thought Anthony was good, but it was a real team effort. They all made a contribution, we couldn't have won here tonight without everyone performing."
The Broncos promised a revamped attack under new assistant coach Jason Demetriou. The methodology was simple. Chief playmakers, Milford and Hunt, had to back themselves. Run the show ... and play direct.
Offensive systems are never finely tuned in the opening weeks of March, and the Broncos were far from seamless last night, but amid the round-one scrap there were signs of promise.
Milford started with an early fumble but more importantly he was on the ball. His grubber kick for James Roberts' 33rd minute try, which gave Brisbane a crucial 14-6 lead, was sweet reward for a set play they had rehearsed at training 24 hours earlier.
Milford's partner-in-crime, Hunt, has work to do. He didn't run enough. In clutch moments, his kicking game lacked thought and precision. He needs to lift for Brisbane to be a genuine title force.
But elsewhere, the Broncos flexed their muscle.
Newly-crowned skipper Boyd is in the best form of his career. When he chimes in on backman plays, Brisbane look a dangerous machine. Twice he delivered the final pass for tries, first for Jordan Kahu's opener in the sixth minute before releasing Corey Oates just after half-time for a 20-6 advantage.
The Sharks came flying home in the final quarter, but with the game on the line, Milford stepped up to deliver the bullet.