Fearing he has squandered his chance at a State of Origin call-up this season, Warriors five-eighth James Maloney has given himself a month to remind selectors just why his name was raised in the first place – starting this Sunday against in-form South Sydney.
Maloney is one of a handful of candidates for the New South Wales No.6 jersey for Origin I on May 23 alongside incumbent Jamie Soward and fellow challengers Todd Carney, Terry Campese and Jarrod Mullen, but two below-par performances in losses to Sydney Roosters and Canberra have left the Warriors playmaker chasing the pack.
“It’s nice to be in the picture (for Origin) but the last fortnight of football I’ve played, I don’t think I’ve been doing myself any favours there,” he told NRL.com.
“The last couple of weeks I’ve been well down on where I expect myself to be and the sort of football I expect of myself, so it’s something I definitely need to turn around over the next month, starting this week.
“I need to keep working hard and try and bounce back.
“I mean, when I hit the paddock [Origin] is the last thing on my mind so I think for me it is about making sure I’m focused. I can cut down on some of the errors I’ve been making in games and basically just get through everything I need to do for our side.
“If I can do that then the side’s form will turn around and we’ll get rolling again.”
Maloney said he was particularly disappointed with the defensive efforts of he and halves partner Shaun Johnson, who rank first and second in the NRL for missed tackles this season with 35 and 30 respectively.
“It’s an area we need to be better at, me and Shauny,” he said. “It’s an area we work hard on but it’s definitely something we need to improve. We don’t want to be leaking points.
“Playing in the halves and [defending] three-in there, every side tries to spot up and isolate blokes so it really just comes down to making the tackles we need to make. That’s what we have to do for the side and it is important we do that.
“But I think as a side in general we’ve been leaking too many points. Defence is a big area we need to improve.”
Among the pre-season favourites at the start of the year after going all the way to the grand final in 2011, the Warriors have slumped to 2-4 this year with their only wins coming against struggling Parramatta and the Gold Coast.
Somewhat surprisingly given that they built last year’s success on their relentless go-forward and second-phase play, they rank 15th for metres gained this season with 1233 per game and make just the fifth-fewest offloads with 8.7 per game. They are also the worst in the Telstra Premiership for both missed tackles and errors.
Asked what had gone wrong, Maloney said simple errors were killing any momentum the Warriors were trying to build.
“We’re not playing as smart as we want,” he said. “We’re probably doing things a little bit one-out, which is making us a lot easier for other sides to handle. We’re turning over some ball and are probably working harder than we should be.
“The more ball you turn over and the harder you work, the more your attack suffers… it all sort of compounds, so we’re not having the same opportunities. Because we’re turning over the ball, everyone is a bit reluctant. We don’t have the same punch in attack and the same support. It all seems to stem from that one thing. If we can just be a bit smarter about what we do with the ball and make the opposition work as hard as we are, I’m sure it will turn around quickly.”
On a positive note, the Warriors are traditionally slow starters and were in an identical position this time last year before embarking on a five-match winning streak from Round 7.
“It’s obviously not ideal but at the end of the day we’re only six rounds in and there is a long way to go,” Maloney said. “We’re aware of the capabilities we’ve got if we can put it together. It’s just about getting the confidence back up. Obviously you lose a couple of games and morale gets a bit down, so it’s a matter of keeping tight and upbeat. One win can turn it all around.”
Maloney said it was important that the Warriors matched South Sydney physically this Sunday, with fullback Greg Inglis and giant forward Dave Taylor in fine form over the past few weeks.
“They’ve got a big pack that has been rolling forward. They’re a side we’re going to have to match physically because the last few weeks I don’t think we’ve matched sides in the physical department,” he said. “Sides seem to be getting over the top of us.”