The past few decades have seen the emergence of superstars like Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, who could go down as Immortals. But where does James Maloney fit in?
The most successful NSW Blues coach of all time once characterised him as having “the worst memory in the world”.
It was an ironic compliment from Gus Gould describing James Maloney’s unique ability to forget a poor decision in only a matter of seconds and get on with playing his own natural game.
In an era of State of Origin football that has left New South Wales reeling from a decade’s worth of psychological trauma, it strikes me as advantageous to select a player whose unusual temperament makes him virtually impervious to that kind of mental scarring.
Jimmy’s critics rightly observe that he has endured a poor start to the season, especially by the standards of a quality representative player.
In what has been a horrendous year so far for the Panthers both on and off the field, the plucky five-eighth has barely registered a blip in any of the core metrics by which you would typically measure the performance of a half.
Maloney doesn’t crack the top 50 players in terms of linebreaks, with his most flattering statistic coming in the form of try assists which had him ranked 11th at the start of Round 14.
However, over the last month the men from the foot of the mountains have started to show faint signs of a pulse.
With the Panthers scrimping and scraping their way now to four straight wins, some of the rust has also started to flake off Maloney’s game, positioning him nicely to reclaim his place on the big Origin stage.
The resurgence of personal form aside, Jimmy is also a big-game player.
He doesn’t only invariably rise to the occasion in important matches, he revels in it.
Truth be told, State of Origin football probably suits Maloney’s personality more so than the week in, week out rigours of a taxing NRL season.
There are times during the year when he can be accused of looking restless, often manifesting in the form of needless niggle and dumb penalties.
But for some players the bigger stages can serve as a catalyst for greater focus, and this is the case for James Maloney.
In Game 1 of the State of Origin series the Blues lacked confidence and creativity in the halves, a reflection of just how demanding the cauldron of Origin can be for players who are new to the contest.
Cleary is still young and many remain confident that in time he will find his feet and develop into a more creative and aggressive player with the ball in hand. The jury is still out on this for me. While I admire how well Cody Walker has played in club land – particularly this year – there were lamentably alarm bells in Brisbane.
Brad Fittler played down Walker’s lack of impact in Game 1, suggesting he simply “struggled to get into the game” post-match, but there was no doubt Cody suffered from a major ‘deer in the headlights’ moment. And while it may seem harsh to drop a bloke after only one match, there are no second chances for Freddy’s men in Perth – every game of Origin is war and the stage provides little charity for long-term planning and second chances.
Maloney has to be selected for the must-win match if New South Wales wants to deliver its best shot of levelling the series.
The best halves in Origin don’t wait for matches to turn their way or bide their time for an opportunity to strike; they inject themselves into every moment and often back themselves to pull off big moments.
Brad Fittler rightly pointed out after Game 1 that his team needed to play more football and chance their arm more. Well, Freddy, when it comes to rolling the dice and taking chances, I’d suggest choosing the guy renowned for never remembering his losses.