JT pinpoints the player to spark Broncos’ dreams
Queensland champion Johnathan Thurston has turned up the heat on Brisbane's playmaking spine and challenged $1 million man Anthony Milford to prove the Broncos aren't finals cannon fodder.
Halfback icon Thurston, Brisbane's nemesis in the 2015 grand final, says Milford, Darius Boyd and Jake Turpin hold the key to engineering a Broncos boilover in Sunday's elimination final against Eels at Bankwest Stadium.
The Broncos confront fifth-placed Parramatta as rank outsiders, having limped into the finals in eighth spot with a losing record (11-12-1) as the only team in the playoffs with a negative points differential (-57).
Brisbane's scrumbase has been a problem area all season and the Broncos are banking on an inexperienced and makeshift halves pairing in Boyd and Turpin to spearhead an unlikely premiership charge.
With Boyd and Turpin still searching for playmaking fluency, Thurston says Milford is the X-factor at fullback and believes he is Brisbane's great white hope in his backfield duel with Parramatta skipper Clint Gutherson.
"'Milf' is a game breaker and he has to get involved on every play this week," said Thurston, whose extra-time field goal in the 2015 decider broke Brisbane's hearts and clinched the Cowboys' maiden title.
"Defences are so strong now, so if Milford can get the ball in some open play from second-phase football, he can be a threat.
"Milf's greatest asset is his running game, so if his forwards can get over the advantage line and get the defence retreating, that's when is he at his best."
History shows premiership teams invariably feature great halfbacks and the Boyd-Turpin alliance faces a daunting test at a Bankwest Fortress where Parramatta have won eight of 10 games.
While the Eels possess a classy game-manager in Mitchell Moses, who leads the NRL for try assists, Brisbane's No.7 rival, Turpin, is a traditional hooker who will be making his finals debut.
Brisbane's forwards have been outstanding over the past three months but Thurston says their halves have to capitalise on the go-forward of Payne Haas, Matt Lodge and David Fifita.
"Their spine needs to stand up," the former Maroons ace said.
"Their forward pack has been doing the job, we know what kids like Payne Haas and David Fifita can do, but if they lay the platform against Parra, their playmakers need to make the most of the opportunities that will be presented to them.
"Turpin and 'Macca' (Andrew McCullough) will get the boys around the park, but it's up to Darius and Milf to link with their outside backs.
"We know 'Darbs' is good in three-on-two situations, but Milf needs to hang around the ball a bit more and be a threat in broken play."
Boyd, who moved to five-eighth in June after 302 NRL games as a fullback or winger, is confident he and Turpin can hold their own in the sudden-death arena.
"Since myself and 'Turps' came together in the halves, our last 10 weeks have been pretty successful, it's what has got us to the finals," he said.
"After the start we had, no one gave us a chance to make the finals, so the players and coaching staff have done a great job to fight back."
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