By STEVE MASCORD
ANTHONY Milford is playing fullback – a position likely closed off to him if he succeeds in joining Brisbane next year – at the World Cup simply because he wants to, coach Matt Parish has revealed.
The 19-year-old, centre of a tug-o-war between Canberra and Brisbane for his services in 2014, was named man of the match as Samoa claimed their first win of the tournament, 38-4 over a disappointing Papua New Guinea at Hull’s Craven Park.
While Milford insists his bid for a compassionate release from the Raiders is wholly in the hands of his managers, Parish gave a surprising answer when asked if he considered switching the rookie into the halves following a first-up loss to New Zealand.
“He can play where-ever he wants, that kid,” Parish said. “He’s certainly a great talent. I personally think he’s suited to fullback. If he wants to play fullback, I’m happy to play him there.
“But again, he could play halfback really well.”
The signing of Ben Barba means Milford would probably not be able to play the custodian role at Suncorp Stadium – particularly since the club also boasts the current New Zealand no.1, Josh Hoffman.
Asked if he was suggesting Milford was allowed to play where-ever he wanted for Samoa, Parish responded: “Why not?”
Beng given the run of an international side while still a teenager works well, according to Milford. “If it’s too far for me to come across, I just play that first receiver role,” he told Fairfax Media.
“They boys don’t mind playing at the back as well, which is good. I can pick and choose.”
Milford is saying little about his 2014 plans. “I’m not too sure. I’ve got a four week break when I go back. Everything’s up to my management team. Hopefully when I go back, I’ll have something sorted out,” he said.
Samoa led 22-0 after 24 minutes, effectively anaesthetising the hardy 6782 fans who braved the cold at East Hull. The Kumuls remained he local favourites, however, and responded with a more spirited display after trailing 28-0 at the break.
The Samoans were deadly at times on the edges, with Pita Godinet’s 14th-minute try the result of a mesmerising interchange of passes on the right side.
But Samoa are running low on troops, with Reni Maitua (groin), Harrison Hansen (leg) and Frank Winterstein (pectoral muscle) to miss the rest of the tournament.
A call to bring in re-inforcements, which would have incuded St Helens’ Tony Puletua, has fallen in deaf ears.
PNG coach Adrian Lam, meanwhile, was battening down the hatches for a wave of criticism. Coaching director Mal Meninga has moved to write a lettet to the country’s public after the one-point loss to France which opened the campaign.
“Although we wanted to do well here, the priority is that next (World Cup),” Lam said.
“At the last World Cup, we had 15 international players and eight locals. At this World Cup, it’s swapped around, it’s the opposite.”
Lam said his message to league-mad Papuans was “just to be patient with the process”.
“We’ve got seven million people who were probably up watching this morning.They judge the boys pretty harsh on performance. I know everyone at home will be pretty disappointed. Probably, we’ll see our critics over the next couple of days and the next week or two. That’s cool. Off the back of that performancetonight, it wasn’t too cool.
“We’ve still got New Zealand to go. All is not lost. We might win that to go through to the quarter-finals.”
Lam offered a wry smile as he uttered that last sentence.
SAMOA 38 (Antonio Winterstein 3, Suaia Matagi, Pita Godinet, Ben Roberts Suasu Sue tries; Anthony Milford 5 goals) beat PAPUA NEW GUINEA 4 (Jesse Joe Nandye try) at Craven Park. Referee: Shayne Hayne (Australia). Crowd: 6,782.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD