Maloney eyes Rabbitohs revenge
James Maloney wasn't born into the rivalry between the Rabbitohs and Roosters, but it is a part of him now.
Maloney made his Roosters debut in the first-round game against the Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium. The Rabbitohs, starting their second season under Michael Maguire's coaching, won 28-10 against a Roosters side coached for the first time by Trent Robinson.
Now they go head to head again in the final round, at ANZ Stadium on Friday night, with the coveted JJ Giltinan Shield – the prize for the minor premiership – set to be handed to the winner. The Roosters are coming off two straight losses against a Rabbitohs side that has won three in a row. It's going to be huge.
"It wasn't until I got to the Roosters that I could understand the rivalry, and it's great, it's great for the game," Maloney said. "It brings big crowds and it creates a great atmosphere. It'll be unreal on Friday night. It'll be a bumper crowd there and it will be a like a finals game before the finals."
Maloney said the Roosters have believed all along that they could improve on what they did against the Rabbitohs in that first-round game, the next time around.
"We knew after Round 1, we spoke about it," he said. "They had been together for longer, for over 12 months with 'Madge' (Maguire). They had been running the same systems over 12 months and we knew we could build on what we did in Round 1.
"So it wasn't all doom and gloom, and it would be nice to reverse the roles in Round 26."
Maloney said a game like this really gets his blood pumping and brings out the best in him.
"It's such a great rivalry and it's such a big game and big atmosphere, and as a footy player that's what you play for, to run out on big occasions and in front of big crowds," he said.
"It's what we play footy for and it will be great to do that this week. Hopefully, the Roosters can go deep into the semis and play some more big games."
Back-to-back losses to the Sharks and Titans have provided a stark reminder to the Roosters that you're only as good as your last game.
But Maloney – who knows a bit about the ups and downs of the game, having played in the 2011 grand final with the Warriors only to sink to 14th with them last season – remains thrilled at the thought of how much progress the Roosters have made this season.
"I had two good years over at the Warriors," Maloney said. "It probably fell away my last year over there and I learned a bit from that. We missed the finals and I was on my break and watching all the other teams play and wishing we were a part of it.
"It definitely puts the fire back in the belly and makes you realise what you want to do, and coming to the Roosters it's all just sort of fallen into place. Trent has done an amazing job getting all the boys together and moving forward.
"Obviously, we've had a setback in the last couple of rounds, but I think the biggest thing about our side this season is that everyone has played well. There's no one person carrying the side and there's nobody who hasn't performed.
"Everyone has played their part and to be in a situation where you've got 17 blokes all performing at their best, or really close to it, most of the time, that's got to go to the coach."
Maloney says the schedule of tough games against finals contenders in the closing rounds was exactly what the Roosters needed.
"That's the type of football you need to be accustomed to when you get to the finals," he said. "It's good to have some games where it really goes down to the wire and you have to play out the 80 minutes, because that's exactly how it will be when the finals start."
Maloney signed for the Roosters 12 months ahead of arriving at the club, and way before they also signed Sonny Bill Williams, Michael Jennings and Luke O'Donnell. He says he was confident in the Roosters' ability to compete even before any of those other players came on-board.
The Roosters made the grand final in 2010, but missed the finals in 2011 and again last year.
"I suppose it's always hard to predict, but I really liked the roster they had when I signed," Maloney said. "I didn't want to come to a club and not do well and not be playing finals football. I wanted to make sure I was at a club that I thought had a strong roster and could perform well.
"Those great players that signed after I did have all been valuable additions to the squad, but I thought the squad was pretty strong before that. To have players of that calibre come on top of what was already there has been a great bonus."
There are eight players from the Roosters' side that played in the 2010 grand final who are still at the club, including some who struggled for consistency in 2011-12 but who are playing good football on a regular basis now.
"The roster always had the ability," Maloney said. "There were players probably not performing to the standard that they were capable of, so I knew the talent was there. It was a matter of making sure everyone was playing at their best, and a lot of that is down to 'Robbo' this year."
Maloney nominated Jake Friend, Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves as three of the biggest improvers.
"Jake Friend has been enormous for us this year," he said. "He touches the ball more than anyone in our side and probably makes more tackles than anyone in our side, and he's a big contributor to how the side's going. He gets through a lot of quality work and provides us with plenty of spark.
"Frank-Paul is playing his best season for a few years and Jared's really starting to stand up as a leader of our forward pack. We've got a really strong pack at the moment and a lot of the stuff we're doing outside of that is coming off the back of the platform they're creating for us."