By STEVE MASCORD
WHEN Josh Papalii told Anthony Milford he was joining Parramatta, there was a profound silence.
The Canberra Raiders pair had grown up near each other in Brisbane. The players, each of Samoan descent, saw each other most days in the national capital – they were like brothers.
And now ‘Papa’ was leaving.
“When he told me, I was pretty much speechless,” Milford, the exciting 18-year-old Raiders halfback, tells Rugby League Week.
“I didn’t know what to say. I was just … he’s pretty much a brother to me.
“I knew him from back home in Brisbane. Our suburbs don’t like each other, Inala and Woodridge. They’re pretty much rivals every time. We met through there and when I came down to Canberra, I stayed with Papa a little bit.
“Just meeting his family and stuff was heaps good and helped me out a lot.
“I think it’s shown – that I’ve felt more comfortable around the boys, especially with him helping me.”
But what impresses anyone who meets Milford is his maturity. For such a young fellow, he’s articulate and thoughtful. So the silence didn’t last long.
“Hearing the news, afterwards, I looked at it as just another step for him. He was just doing what was best for him and his family,” says the captain of the Queensland under 20s, speaking to us at Canberra Airport.
“I just told him that the decision was ‘based on you and your family so don’t listen to anyone else telling you what to do or stuff like that. There’s no wrong or right. If you make a decision, don’t look back’.”
Sage words from someone so young. But Papalii, as Parramatta fans reading this would be acutely aware, did look back. After receiving a counter-offer from the Green Machine, the 21-year-old backrower decided to enact the June 30 clause and stay in the land of roundabouts.
The quick-stepping Milford is happy – insiders say he played a role in the big man’s decision – and will be joining ‘Papa’ in the Samoan side at the World Cup this year.
“I want to pledge to Samoa,” he says enthusiastically. “I got asked to go play for them in the Test match (on April 20) but my first instinct was to play for the Queensland 20s. I was hoping to get the captain of the 20s squad so I couldn’t say ‘no’ to that.
“I was born in Australia.
“At the end of the year, if I keep playing good footy, I’m hoping to get a spot in the World Cup team, I guess.
“The whole family is Samoan. They moved here just for a better life. Everyone knows the island vibe, around Samoa and New Zealand. They all come here trying to get a better life, just better stuff for the kids and to give them what they didn’t grow up with.”
Milford, more or less a fixture in first grade now, was recruited like Papalii through the Raiders twinning arrangement with Souths Logan.
“I did similar to him,” Milford explains. “ I came down for SG ball and just did the ranks, went to 20s. Last season I did the pre-season with NRL and that helped me out a lot.
“Canberra, it’s a small spot. I think it’s perfect for rugby league players because the people are nice. You don’t get people yelling this or that out in the streets, calling you stuff, calling you names, Everyone’s aware of who you are here. You’ve just got to be careful what you do. Everyone knows who you are. Your image around the people is (important).”
Milford aimed to play first grade at some stage this year – and only had to wait until round five to achieve it. “It’s massive growing up watching these players go through the ranks and … just being there is something special,” he reflects.
“Just the quality of the players … they rarely make a mistake whereas in the 20s, you get found out a lot. Everyone knows your strengths and weaknesses, through the whole team.
“But having said that, in the (first grade) opposition teams, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses . With the videos and that, they point them out.
“I’ve got next year (here). I haven’t really thought about it. I want to, first and foremost, play good for the Raiders. If an extension comes up, I’ll just leave it to my manager.”
One suggests Josh Papalii might be in his ear as well. It’s shaping up like some sort of unofficial pact…
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD