His start at Melbourne may have come to a swift end, but James Maloney has now turned into an unstoppable force in the NRL.
That’s the opinion of rival playmaker Cooper Cronk, who partnered Maloney at the scrumbase three times in the Cronulla star’s rookie NRL year with the Storm in 2009.
Seven years later and the incumbent NSW State of Origin five-eighth is on the cusp of leading the Sharks, in his first season in the Shire to a maiden title over his old club.
Cronk identified the 30-year-old Maloney as one of the key Sharks to stop in Sunday’s decider.
“(Coach Craig Bellamy) will do his homework and hopefully we’ll have a plan to limit him, because you can’t stop him. We’ll just try and limit his ability and influence,” Cronk said.
“James deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done at the Cronulla Sharks this year. Not only that, but he’s had a tremendous State of Origin campaign as well.”
Maloney played a total four games in bleak city before transforming into one of the game’s most successful journeymen, playing grand finals with the Warriors and the Sydney Roosters.
Only six other players have featured in three deciders with three different clubs.
“James must bring something special to a football team because each team that he’s been a part of, he’s made a grand final,” Cronk said.
“I know he’s a charismatic guy off the field but he’s also a tenacious competitor, and brings a lot of calmness to that football team.”
Smith was two years into his full-time captaincy when Maloney emerged in the NRL, and knew instantly that the pointscoring wizard would be a hit in the league.
However the addition of veteran pivot Brett Finch that year forced Maloney to look elsewhere.
“I was a huge fan of Jimmy Maloney when he was at the club. It was unfortunate that he didn’t get more of an opportunity to play first grade footy here,” Smith said.
“But he had the chance to go over to the Warriors, and he played in a grand final there, played in a grand final at the Roosters, and now he’s in another grand final.
“He showed how good he is and how he handles the big stage the other night against the Cowboys. He’s coming off a good game and he’ll be confident this week.”