Roosters halves better than 2013: Maloney
They've already delivered the Provan-Summons trophy to the Roosters once, and now James Maloney says his partnership with Mitch Pearce at the Tricolours scrum base is even better almost 12 months on.
The pair has been in phenomenal touch of late as the Chooks flexed their premiership muscle with six straight wins, striking a similar vein of form to the one that marched the Roosters all the way to the title last year.
In their first season together after Maloney's arrival at Bondi from the Warriors, Pearce and Maloney produced 25 try assists each, the most of any halves duo in the competition.
Fast forward to present day and despite enduring plenty of criticism earlier in the year, the 41 times they've had a leading hand in Roosters tries (Maloney has 22 try assists thus far, Pearce 19) ensures they're again right up near the top of the pile.
Only the 43 four-pointers engineered by North Queensland's Johnathan Thurston (30) and Robert Lui (13) trumps the Roosters pair, while their 43 line-break assists (Maloney 22, Pearce 21) are without peer.
On the eve of their first finals outing against Penrith, Maloney says he and Pearce have honed their combination to be even more potent in 2014.
"It's something that we've been working on... and it's improved," Maloney says.
"Obviously having 12 months together we started off with a basic game plan gelling together. But the longer you spend; you can find little things within that that can help.
"We've probably been linking up a little bit more in some ad-lib footy and off-the-cuff footy and we're starting to understand each other, which all comes with time.
"I think we're both in reasonable form at the moment, both playing well together and the side's finding its feet."
When pressed, Maloney concedes his good mate's recent purple patch is more than just "reasonable". More like career-best.
"I think it's right up there," Maloney responds when asked how Pearce's current form compares to previous years.
"He's played a lot of good football over a lot of years but just that little bit of composure that he's got about his game... and at different moments is games is probably the best I've ever seen him.
"He's just coming up with the right play at the right time and that's what we need from him and he's doing that superbly at the moment.
"He's still only what, mid-20s? He's only young. It's good – if he's not at his best, it could be even better to come."
It's an ominous warning considering the influence the pair wielded last September.
Pearce was sublime as he dismantled the Knights in last year's grand final qualifier, while Maloney took centre stage in the decider against Manly as he laid on three tries – including Michael Jennings' match-winner – and booted five goals from as many attempts.
Last year the pair used the disappointment of yet another failed NSW Origin campaign, in which Maloney made his Blues debut alongside Pearce, to fuel their premiership fire.
This time round there's no shortage of motivation either, given their well-documented Origin axing due to Pearce's arrest mid-May on a boozy night out and the hardline stance of NSW coach Laurie Daley on off-field incidents.
Maloney admits that while missing out on the Blues' historic series win stung it has pushed him and Pearce to greater heights at club level, and he hailed his teammate's ability to rise above the steady stream of barbs thrown his way.
"[Origin] is not something you want to miss out on, it's a big thing," Maloney says.
"But after that we said there's no point dwelling on it, nothing's going to change. We just need to knuckle down and put in really well with the Roosters.
"I think he's always been able to bounce back from criticism and I think that's a massive strength of Junior's.
"I think a lot of it that comes is probably unwarranted... but the biggest thing is when there is criticism, knowing who it's coming from, and there's criticism you can probably take and justify and others you can take as a grain of salt and move on.
"He's always been someone who's last off the paddock, practicing his kicking and his passing and that sort of stuff so it's not a surprise. He puts a lot of time into what he does."