Cronulla’s James Maloney has a chance to seal a NSW recall when he comes up against incumbent Blues playmaker and Newcastle No.7 Trent Hodkinson on Sunday.
NSW coach Laurie Daley is reportedly mulling over several options for this year’s State of Origin series, with selectors considering reuniting Maloney with his former Sydney Roosters teammate Mitchell Pearce.
Pearce and Maloney were paired as the Blues halves for NSW’s 2013 series loss before Maloney lost his spot in 2014 as a result of Pearce being dropped.
While their prospective partnership will depend on Pearce’s state of mind, having only returned from his latest club suspension a fortnight ago, Maloney could hardly be doing any more to ensure a return to the Blues fold.
After nine rounds he has been one of the form playmakers of the competition, scoring four tries in his last five outings, and is the third highest pointscorer in the competition.
In contrast, Hodkinson has been slow out of the blocks at Newcastle and has looked off his game at some points during his side’s 1-8 start to the season.
Maloney has been a big part of the Sharks’ surge into the top four after nine rounds.
Having scored a nail-biting win over premiership favourites Brisbane before the representative break, they go into Sunday’s clash with the last-placed Knights at Hunter Stadium as overwhelming favourites.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said it represented a danger game and would be disappointed if they let their minds wander from the task at hand.
“We’re one of the most experienced sides in the competition, in relation to games, and for me it should be a given that having that experience we can go up to Newcastle and be professional and play with the same intent,” Flanagan said.
“I’ve got some young kids in my team but I’ve got the experience that guides them through these situations where they go into games expected to win. There’s no easy games in the NRL and we’ve been on the other end of it a couple of times.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* The Knights have conceded the most points (32.6 per game) and tries (5.7 per game) and the second most line breaks (5.9 per game) this season. Their discipline has also been poor, conceding the most penalties (8.9 per game).
* Newcastle’s 293 points conceded this season is the second most in club history through nine games, behind 308 in 2005.
* This is the sixth time that Cronulla has won at least seven of its opening nine games and the first time since 2005. The Sharks have never missed the finals when doing so.
Source: Fox Sports Stats