The Warriors appear to be the dark horse of this year’s Telstra Premiership but it is a different title that five-eighth James Maloney is hoping to also win in 2011.
With just four rounds remaining Maloney finds himself sitting second on the NRL point-scorers’ list and with the Warriors hosting Newcastle at Mt Smart Stadium this weekend he has the opportunity to push for his place in the history books.
“It would definitely be nice,” said Maloney, whose 154 points in 2011 sees him locked in a three-way battle with Chris Sandow (160) and Benji Marshall (146) for the crown.
“Obviously I know that I’m up there and it would be nice to be able to achieve that. But to do that I just need to play well and do my best for the side. When the side is going well that gives me the opportunity to put a few points on. Being goal-kicker helps me, too.”
Were it not for Sandow’s 20-point performance in South Sydney’s 56-6 demolition of Parramatta on Monday night, Maloney would already be in the box seat to finish the season on top; although whatever happens from hereon in it seems we’re set for a rare occurrence in 2011.
Not since Daryl Halligan finished the 1993 season with 180 points has the competition’s top point-scorer notched less than 200 points for the year, with Sandow and Maloney needing to up the ante over the coming weeks if they hope to crack the double ton … “Which is funny because I was actually thinking the other day that it was a little bit low,” Maloney observed.
“I know that Johnathan Thurston was on top and him missing a few weeks (through injury) has probably helped because he had a bit of a jump on everyone. I know last year that Michael Gordon and Todd Carney had a tonne of points, but we’ll see what happens.”
His point-scoring aside, Maloney has been one of the brightest stars for the Warriors this season after joining the club from Melbourne in 2010. A relative unknown at the time, he has since become a regular in the halves for the Kiwi outfit and his combination with young halfback Shaun Johnson has been key to the club’s strong form over the past two months.
“Overall I’ve been pretty happy,” the 25-year-old said. “Obviously the more time you spend there the more comfortable you feel and as you go along you pick up more of what works and what doesn’t. For me it’s just a matter of continuing to build. I haven’t even played 50 games yet (he is due to play his 50th in Round 25) so I’d like to think that the best is yet to come.
“Now with Shaun in there I’ve taken on a bit more of a leadership role but also just having that 12 months under the belt with the boys and them getting used to me has helped.
“There is probably a little bit more expected of me each game now so I probably do take on a bit of a leadership role in trying to get the boys around. But our pack is doing very well too and I can only control things that come on the back of that. It’s my job to take advantage of it.”
Maloney was also quick to insist that the Warriors’ bubble hadn’t burst with last Saturday’s narrow 21-20 loss to Brisbane following a run of four consecutive wins previously, with the nature of their performance – which included two scorching long-distance tries – giving the side plenty of confidence in upcoming games against Newcastle, Penrith, St George Illawarra and North Queensland.
“I thought we hung in pretty well against the Broncos and we know that if we stick to our plan we can put points on, so it’s just a matter of making that complete 80-minute performance,” he said.
“If anything I think it was a good learning curve for us at this stage of the season. The last month we’ve played some sides a bit down on the table and have won comfortably so it was good to have a tight 80-minute hit-out that went right down to the wire.
“Obviously we’ve looked at the video and there are some things we could have done better in that game. We’ll learn from that and hopefully fix them up in the coming weeks.”
Maloney said the fact that the Warriors faced a tough run home could only benefit them come finals time.
“Personally I think it’s a good run,” he said. “I prefer to have a few tough hit-outs and really know where you sit before you hit the finals. So I see it as a positive and we’ll keep building and learning. Obviously the Knights this week, they’ve been in pretty good form and it will be another good challenge for our defence which is something we’re always working on.
“If we can restrict other teams’ scores we’ve got enough ability in our side to really put some points on.”
Meanwhile with Nathan Merritt leading the try-scorer’s list with 18 and Sandow leading the overall points tally, South Sydney are on the verge of supplying both the top try- and point-scorers in the same season for the first time since 1927.
2011 TOP POINT-SCORERS
160 Chris Sandow
154 James Maloney
146 Benji Marshall
140 Luke Burt
138 Cameron Smith