The Courier-Mail

Half combinatio­ns prove twice as good in unison

- DARREN LOCKYER

AS I watched Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt destroy the Rabbitohs on Thursday night, it was hard not to envisage the duo running riot in the NRL grand final.

They remind me so much of Brisbane’s iconic Kevin Walters-Allan Langer alliance, and the rare chemistry that delivered premiershi­ps.

Ironically, the team that can best learn lessons from the Milford-Hunt magic act is Brisbane’s Queensland rivals, the Cowboys.

North Queensland’s clash against Melbourne tonight will be a barometer of where they stand on the eve of the finals, and how they cope without injured pivot Michael Morgan.

Great halves pairings invariably engineer premiershi­ps and in Hunt (pictured) and Milford, Brisbane have the nerve centre to do something special.

But Morgan’s ankle injury has thrown a spanner in the works for a Cowboys side that finally appeared to have a settled scrumbase union after years of musical chairs.

The challenge for the Cowboys will be keeping their juggernaut rolling without hitting a speed bump on the eve of the playoffs.

Morgan has been a brilliant foil for Johnathan Thurston this season, but without him tonight the Maroons maestro confronts the once-familiar scenario of being the Cowboys’ go-to man.

The Storm are sure to double team Thurston.

When you have two quality playmakers, as Hunt and Milford illustrate, you halve problems and impose question marks on opposition defences.

Thurston’s cohort tonight, Ray Thompson, is an experience­d player but he has drifted in and out of the team.

Cowboys coach Paul Green can only hope Morgan’s injury is minor, because his absence for the finals would be a crushing blow and expose Thurston to repeated defensive attacks.

As it stands, the Broncos are evidence of the power of playmaking diversity.

Milford and Hunt are fit and firing and they have cultivated the understand­ing that made Walters and Langer such an irresistib­le pairing.

Milford and Hunt have a long road to travel to emulate the Walters-Langer union but the potential is there.

Critically, I see parallels between them not based solely on skill, but the selflessne­ss required to achieve a playmaking balance that settles the entire team.

Alf and Kevvie were great individual­s in their own right but they were also very team orientated. They were never greedy players. Like Walters, Milford has the confidence to pick his marks, but he also knows when to sit back and let his scrumbase partner take the reins.

Like Langer, Hunt lacks the ego to demand total dominance. He has the skills to orchestrat­e Brisbane’s offence but has developed the ability to read Milford, extract his pivot’s best qualities and not suffocate his brilliance.

Milford’s performanc­e against the Rabbitohs just blew me away. Having made the transition from fullback to five-eighth myself, I understand how difficult the shift can be.

But Milford has taken his game to the next level and if his developmen­t curve continues, he could be the best five-eighth in the game.

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