Wonder on wing
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