Incumbent NSW five-eighth James Maloney took a huge stride towards retaining his NSW No.6 jersey on Friday night, showing no ill-effects from a shoulder injury and laying on three tries in the Roosters' 30-6 win over the Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium.
Maloney has faced stiff competition from the likes of Newcastle's Jarrod Mullen, Rabbitoh John Sutton and Bulldog Josh Reynolds as he struggled for rhythm early in the season, but strong back-to-back performances now have him almost guaranteed to retain his place in the Blues squad.
He had arguably his best performance of the year in a 34-14 against the Dragons on Anzac Day in Round 8 – the match in which he left the field late due to a Grade 2 AC joint injury – but with the help of painkilling injections took the field in Round 9 after missing the City-Country fixture to help set up four tries and display a dominant running and passing performance.
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First a Maloney line break led to the first of Blues and Roosters centre Michael Jennings' two tries; a towering bomb led to Blues halfback Mitchell Pearce scoring and a cut-out ball to winger Daniel Tupou – himself bordering on NSW selection – put the winger over in the corner. Another long, flat cut-out pass to the same player led to a try to NSW and Roosters back rower Boyd Cordner.
"[Blues coach] Laurie [Daley] will be happy. Jimmy showed that his shoulder's fine, he worked hard for what he got tonight," Roosters coach Trent Robinson said after the match.
"Grade 2 is a 4-6 week injury if you want to just leave it – he couldn't have played without the injection. He gets one before the game then again at half-time."
Robinson said that was possible because there was no structural damage in the shoulder that could get worse; it was simply a case of playing through the pain threshold.
"Usually I reckon it'd take someone one or two more weeks but he's shown to have really good recovery skills on other niggling injuries he's had. He's a lucky kid."
The coach said he never contemplated forcing his five-eighth to rest.
"He was clear that he wanted to play – he knows he's fighting for an Origin spot."
Maloney himself said Origin I was a game he wanted to be involved in, so "the more games I can get under my belt leading into it I assume is going to be better for myself".
Maloney revealed Blues coach Laurie Daley called him when the injury happened to find out more about the injury prognosis but didn't say he wanted the playmaker to see some game time before he'd get picked for Origin.
"He just called me to find out exactly where we were and I said we'd be pushing for this game," Maloney said.
"We didn't really speak about [if he wants to see me play], I just felt for myself and the Roosters it was best as I get back as soon as I can."
In a further boost to NSW ahead of Origin I, centre Michael Jennings shrugged off injury to play strongly and bag a double, while Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter said after the game that Tigers skipper and Blues hooker Robbie Farah was close to playing in the Round 9 game and should be fine to take on Cronulla in Round 10, giving him one game under his belt back from injury before the Blues head into camp.