Anthony Milford has expressed his gratitude for Newcastle in resurrecting his NRL career, stating his time in the league is far from finished.
The past 12 months have been a wild journey for the Samoan international, who was notified his time with the Broncos would be coming to an end at the cessation of last season after battles with both form and injury.
Milford landed a lifeline with the Rabbitohs ahead of the 2022 season, signing a one-year deal to join the Redfern club, the third NRL of his career.
Last September, Milford was arrested for an alleged assault in Queensland, placing his future in the league in further doubt as the NRL opted not to register his contract with the Bunnies due to the ongoing criminal proceedings.
The decision placed Milford as an outcast in the game, with the 27-year-old in limbo and unsure of his future for the year ahead.
Despite the uncertainty, Newcastle had emerged as a potential landing spot for the five-eighth, whose assault charges were eventually dropped in April.
The decision opened the door for Milford to join the Knights for the remainder of the season, aiding Adam O'Brien's playmaking woes as they hope to steer themselves back into finals contention.
The Newcastle coach has all but confirmed Milford's inclusion for next weekend, likely seeing the half feature against his former side, Brisbane, on Thursday night at home.
The return won't be the beginning of the end for Milford though, with the Newcastle recruit hopeful his latest stint can be his best yet.
“I’m not finished,” Milford told News Corp.
“This is a fresh start and I know I’m not done in the NRL.
“...I’m just relieved to be back playing rugby league again.
“I’m grateful to the Knights for being interested in me at a difficult time in my life. They’ve had my back through this situation when others didn’t."
The past several months have been arduous for Milford, who was forced to train away from both the Rabbitohs and Knights after leaving Red Hill.
The former Raider revealed COVID complications had also impacted his ability to train or return to his home state of Queensland, with training a limited leisure for the Brisbane-born playmaker.
“Training alone wasn’t easy. I would go to a gym at West End and I would go run at a park Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s really different to being at training in the NRL with a group of guys and coaches who keep you motivated," he added.
“I tried to get a game at Souths Logan because I just wanted to play some football, but I wasn’t allowed to play until my court case was finished.
"...The Souths stuff was disappointing. I got down there on a Tuesday, I went for a medical on Wednesday and I was meant to be registered on Thursday, but that’s when I found out I couldn’t be registered.
“I ended up working one-on-one with one of the trainers who did some basic training with me.
“I was stuck in Sydney with the COVID situation. We had about three weeks in Sydney where I was on my own and I wasn’t getting paid, so I had to sort things out."
Forced to wait until Round 11 placed further spirals in Milford's journey back into the league, with any and all work in the lead up to his return now set to be put to the test in Newcastle next week.
Milford had never expected to be lining up for the Hunter club, labelling the latest chapter of his career as "surreal" as he prepares for another chapter since making his debut with Canberra in 2013.
Set to line up against the Broncos - where he played 151 games - Milford said he won't be sure if he's ready for a return until the first whistle on Thursday night.
“There’s only one way to find out if I am ready,” Milford said.
“To be honest, it’s been pretty surreal the last few weeks and months. I never thought I would find myself living in Newcastle playing for the Knights.
“It will be weird coming up against the Broncos. The key is to treat it like any other game. I will do my homework on them. They are going pretty well as a team with Adam Reynolds calling the shots so it will be a big test for me.
“The big thing for me is I owe Newcastle. I want to earn the trust of the Knights players. I don’t want to let the Newcastle club and their fans down.
“I haven’t lost my self-belief. I would like to think I have another five or six years in the game. I’m still only 27. I am getting better with my game and I have a better understanding of how to manage an NRL game than when I first started."
While Milford feels as though he owes the Knights for rekindling his NRL career, the No.6 will have another tough contract call to make after inking the short-term deal with Newcastle.
Following a lengthy campaign met by speculation over his future in 2021, Milford is destined to face the music again this year as his contract comes to an end.
Milford was thankful for the support his former mentor has shown in him over the past several months, but remains focused on proving his worth in the NRL with the Knights as the Dolphins continue to circle.
“My manager has had some talks with the Dolphins but my only focus right now is the Knights and let’s see what happens,” he said.
“It was massive for me to have Wayne on my side.
“Through the whole drama, he always called me and checked on my welfare in that six-month period. I am grateful to have someone like him and the advice he gave me. He didn’t have to check on me through that time, he was busy himself, but he always found time for me which I will never forget.
“I’m not even looking that far ahead with the Dolphins. I am appreciative of the chance the Knights have given me and I want to make sure I repay their faith first.
“I have another chance now and I can’t waste it.”