It’s time to give James Maloney his dues.
He might be a joker, but he’s also a rugby league great.
He may be the bloke who admitted on live TV that his mum caught him “barbecuing alone”, but chuck him in a footy team and he wins.
He’s the guy who won’t shut up, but he backs up every word with trophies.
Maloney is a big game player who, with two premierships and consecutive Origin series wins for long-suffering NSW, cannot be denied his place in history. He’s a winner.
“The thing is, he’s a winner every day,” NSW coach Brad Fittler said on Nine, after Maloney helped the Blues to a 26-20 Origin III win.
“Whether other people think he is or not, he thinks he is. And that’s the main part.”
Easy typecasting means little to Maloney, as Fittler explains. The Panthers five-eighth is completely unflappable.
Exhibit A: this series. Maloney was left out for game one despite incumbency, due to his poor form at Penrith. He had slipped way down Fittler’s pecking order, yet came in and played like a champion when injury handed him a recall.
„Jimmy Maloney is a winner,” Queensland great Paul Vautin said on Nine, declaring that the No.6 had turned the tide after NSW went down 1-0 in the series.
Fittler agreed, saying: “When we didn’t pick him in the first game, it was for a reason. At Penrith he was doing nothing, to be fair.
“We love Jimmy, but Cody Walker was doing a brilliant job and he was the best five-eighth at the time.
“But Jimmy was always there, because you know he doesn’t hold a grudge. He just plows through every day.
“He came back and did a brilliant job in Perth. He did a brilliant job tonight.
“The thing is, the people that know him – especially in a State of Origin where it’s over six weeks – he’s just brilliant day to day. He just holds no fear against anyone and that’s the way he thinks day to day.
Maloney, 33, is in the midst of yet another curious career turn. He is tipped to find a lucrative deal in England for next season, cutting his Panthers contract short by a year. He has kept moving clubs and has never been paid the outrageous sums afforded lesser players, despite his record of success.
That may well have been his final Origin game, bumping him up to seven wins from 14 appearances despite overlapping with Queensland’s recent dynasty.
His likely final act on an Origin field: when referee Gerard Sutton explained that the match wasn’t technically over with James Tedesco’s miracle try, Maloney slotted a wide conversion after the siren, raising his arms in triumph as celebrations began. Perfect.
„I got asked a few times throughout the week, ‚What if it’s your last game?’” Maloney told reporters at ANZ Stadium.
„And I said, ‚Well, if you go out on back-to-back series wins, it’s a nice way to go out.
„If it does end up like that, I can leave knowing NSW can go through a pretty strong period and hopefully say that I had a little bit to do with it at the beginning.”
Maloney leaves a legacy. He plays the type of footy Brad Fittler was desperate to play when he became NSW coach. Fearless footy.
Maloney’s signature Origin match will be game one of last season. He threw an intercept to Queensland’s Valentine Holmes for an 80-metre try. Then he fired a forward pass that led to Maroons star Dane Gagai scoring in the next set.
He gave away two tries … but he laid on three for NSW and won them the game, giving Fittler “a few heart attacks” in the process. Even when Maloney was his team’s biggest minus, he was also its biggest plus.
“He was the one, that mindset never changed regardless of score and time,” Fittler said after that game. “I don’t think many people have it.
“It’s quite a unique mindset that Jimmy has got. It’s an incredible weapon especially when you get behind with a lot of rookies in the team. [He] set the platform for the players.”
In Origin II, when the series was there to be won, Maloney had a moment of déjà vu. He eyed off a long pass to left winger Josh Addo-Carr that could have been intercepted by about three Queenslanders.
He threw it anyway. Addo-Carr scored. NSW won – just their second series victory in 13 years.
This Origin decider, Maloney might have kicked a charge-down into Ethan Lowe that led to Josh Papaali’s 76th-minute equalising try for Queensland; yet still his good outweighed the bad by full-time. Winners usually manage to win, one way or another.
Before winning Cronulla their maiden premiership, Maloney won an NRL title with the Roosters alongside Mitchell Pearce. He was reunited with Pearce for Origin III and the tortured halfback had a moment that was shades of Maloney.
Pearce had been strong up until that final minute; good but not match-winning, the story of his Origin career through seven lost series. Then he spotted Tom Trbojevic overlapping his opposing centre, Moses Mbye, on the right edge.
The pass was there – if he had the guts to loop it over Mbye’s head, risking an intercept if the ball wasn’t inch-perfect. Pearce threw it, leading to a match-winning try for Tedesco.
It instantly became Pearce’s signature Origin moment, after a decade of agony. He won a series on his eighth attempt, a decider on his seventh.
Asked by Andrew Johns is he had any doubts about throwing he pass, Pearce said: “No. We had to chance our arm there.”
Pearce has had a second coming at Newcastle this season, becoming the NRL’s form player for the Knights. Maloney is on to his fifth coming.
He was the back-up half who irritated Cooper Cronk during training at Melbourne. The late-blooming star who took the Warriors to a grand final before being poached by the Roosters.
He became a winner at the Chooks and repeated his premiership-winning heroics for the Sharks, turning off the porch light for the Shire club. He has been an invaluable mentor for Nathan Cleary at Penrith, both in NRL and Origin football.
And here’s the bottom line. Andrew Johns won two NRL premierships. Johnathan Thurston won two. James Maloney has won two. He has that form of parity at least with an Immortal and a future Immortal.
Both times, Maloney won the title in his first season with his new club. This Origin series, he helped turned a game one loss into a 38-6 game two win, then NSW’s first decider victory since 2005. He is a game-changer.
How many players get to return mid-series and lead their state to glory? It is the kind of Origin lore reserved for legends like Allan Langer, Fittler, Johns; and now Maloney.
The five-eighth also played three Tests along the way; behind all-time greats in the running for Kangaroos honours. He deserved those jerseys, just like he’s earned everything else that’s come his way. He was part of the 2017 World Cup win, albeit as a squad member who played just one game.
Maloney may be footy’s resident funny guy, but the joke is on anyone who ever thought him less than an all-time great competitor.