As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our 'MVPs' for 2014.
There is surely little argument that the Roosters were the best club in terms of recruiting from 2012 into 2013. Their high profile new faces – James Maloney, Sonny Bill Williams and Michael Jennings – all starred throughout the year as the Tricolours surged to their first premiership in 11 years.
All those players – along with longer serving clubmen such as Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Anthony Minichiello, Jake Friend and plenty of others – played key roles throughout the campaign, so choosing which of their 2013 stars is most important to their 2014 chances is no easy task.
Clearly Williams made a massive difference; his combination with Jennings on the left side in attack was a highlight of the Roosters' play and the club will be hoping for a repeat performance from the rugby-bound back-rower in what is likely to be his final year as a rugby league player (barring a return in the twilight of his career). However the all-round package Maloney offered – his playmaking, his running game, his goal kicking, his combination with several players and in particular halfback Mitchell Pearce – made a massive difference.
In his first season at the club Maloney finished the year (including finals) top of the tree for try assists, with 26 from 25 games. His partner in crime Pearce notched 20, making them by far the most prolific halves combination in the NRL with 46 assists, well ahead of Manly duo Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran on 33.
Maloney's goal-kicking saw him finish the year as comfortably the NRL's top point-scorer with 108 goals and nine tries for a tally of 252 points, ahead of Manly skipper Jamie Lyon, whose 240 points included 16 tries and 88 goals. The handful of stabs towards the sticks from the likes of Daniel Mortimer and Boyd Cordner in the rare games Maloney was unavailable for the Roosters highlighted his value in that department.
Maloney's running game also proved a fearsome weapon for the Tricolours – he broke through the line 18 times in his 25 games, seventh among all comers, with just five wingers and one fullback ahead of him. Next best among playmakers were Shaun Johnson, with 13 breaks from 24 games, and Daly Cherry-Evans with the same number from 27 games.
But possibly the biggest measure of Maloney's impact was his combination with long-serving Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce. The Roosters had finished 13th and 11th in the previous two seasons when Pearce was partnered by Braith Anasta in the halves, and even the 2010 grand final appearance had to be earned from a sixth-placed ladder finish (which would have been seventh if not for Melbourne's disqualification that year) and a worse defensive record than any other top-eight side.
But in 2013 Maloney and Pearce guided the side around the park expertly and teamed up in all three State of Origin matches, where they came agonisingly close to ending Queensland's long unbeaten run.
Maloney's value both in terms of his individual form and his partnership with Pearce will again be the foundation on which the Roosters build their campaign in 2014.