Won­der on wing

Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT - IAIN PAYTEN

ALL sea­son Su­per Rugby ri­vals have been left de­bat­ing ex­actly what species of spi­der cov­ers Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der.

Such is the freak­ish side­step, ac­cel­er­a­tion and de­cep­tion of the 24- year- old Hur­ri­canes winger, it of­ten seems the only ex­pla­na­tion. Mil­ner- Skud­der has proved the most un­touch­able rookie in Su­per Rugby his­tory; break­ing the record for most line­breaks in a maiden sea­son with 19.

For con­text, Is­rael Fo­lau had nine in his maiden year and there seems lit­tle doubt a mo­ment of Mil­ner- Skud­der magic will be in­flu­en­tial in tonight’s Su­per Rugby fi­nal be­tween the Canes and High­landers in Welling­ton.

But the be­wil­dered spi­der ques­tion isn’t a new one.

Four years ago a hand­ful of out­side backs of the St Ge­orge Illawarra un­der 20s side were left ask­ing the same thing when Mil­ner-Skud­der took a win out of their hands in the Toy­ota Cup.

“There was one par­tic­u­lar night we won a game af­ter the bell and he scored a try that prob­a­bly most peo­ple don’t score,” re­called long­time Bull­dogs coach Andy Pat­more this week.

“He beat two or three blokes and scored in the cor­ner, and won us a game. I don’t re­mem­ber much but that game I do.”

Mil­ner- Skud­der’s quick­sil­ver feet are also locked in Pat­more’s mem­ory, who coached the then- teenage Kiwi for two sea­sons in the Bull­dogs’ Toy­ota Cup side, in 2009 and 2010.

Among his team­mates were now- es­tab­lished NRL and Test stars Josh Reynolds, Sam Kasiano, Josh Jackson, Martin Tau­pau, Dale Fin­u­cane and Ai­dan Sezer.

“He was a skinny, wiry kid back then. Noth­ing like he looks now,” Pat­more said.

“Very unas­sum­ing. He was a fan­tas­tic kid. He came to us and played al­most ev­ery game for two years.

“Feet, pass, speed, fend – all the stuff you see now, he is just big­ger in rugby. He looks great, he must be 15 kilo­grams heav­ier than when he was with us, and it hasn’t slowed him down.”

Mil­ner- Skud­der scored 16 tries in 2010 as the Dogs made the semi- fi­nals of the Toy­ota Cup ( knocked out by Shaun John­son’s even­tual pre­miers the War­riors).

But af­ter be­ing of­fered a part- time con­tract to move on to NSW Cup, and op­por- tu­ni­ties in Bris­bane and Can­berra, the young­ster de­cided to move home to study.

Re­turn­ing also to rugby, Mil­ner- Skud­der joined the Manawatu Tur­bos and de­buted in the ITM Cup in 2011. He was a Tur­bos reg­u­lar for the next few sea­sons but only pro­gressed from the Hur­ri­canes wider squad to full- time in 2015.

The clas­sic overnight sen­sa­tion years in the mak­ing, Mil­ner- Skud­der has been out­stand­ing at full­back and wing, and was last week named in the All Blacks squad.

“I am not shocked, but maybe a lit­tle sur­prised,” said Pat­more.

IT’S ON: Ri­val cap­tains Nasi Manu ( High­landers) and Con­rad Smith ( Hur­ri­canes) pre­pare for to­day’s Su­per 15 grand fi­nal at West­pac Sta­dium

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