Storm kick-started my career: Maloney
Sharks five-eighth James Maloney only played four matches for the Storm in their grand-final winning 2009 season but says his stay in Melbourne helped shape him to become the player he is today.
Since making his NRL debut for the Storm, the 30-year-old has played for the Warriors, Roosters and Sharks; this Sunday's grand final will be his third decider – each of those with a different team.
From fill-in Storm five-eighth to chief Sharks playmaker, Maloney has developed into one of the most important players in the Shire and is on the cusp of leading the Sharks to their first premiership in their 50-year history.
To do so, he must overcome the side that gave him his start in the NRL.
"I learnt a lot about footy down there. It was a big part of me going down there," Maloney said.
"I remember talking with my old boy and he sort of said 'mate, there's not many players that go down to Melbourne and come out worse off than when they went down there'.
"At the time they had GI (Greg Inglis) playing five-eighth and they didn't really have another recognised half there. The opportunity paid off. I got my start and then Finchy (Brett Finch) came and spoiled the party and ruined it all for me.
"I got four starts there, and as I said, I learnt a lot about footy under 'Bellyache' (Storm coach Craig Bellamy) so it put me in a really good position at the end of that year to go to the Warriors and take up that opportunity."
While he travelled up with the team for grand final week Maloney wasn't a part of the final 17 that defeated the Parramatta Eels 23-16, meaning he didn't receive a premiership ring.
Instead of kicking stones at the missed opportunity, Maloney said it would've felt wrong to be rewarded for a game he didn't play in.
"Wairangi Koopu was 18th man, I was 19th and Joe Tomane was 20th. We were around all the week, we came up to Sydney and did all that," he recalled of the 2009 decider.
"Regardless of the ring, it wouldn't have had the same meaning if you didn't win it. I've got one now sitting at home and hopefully come Sunday I might have two."
Since leaving the Storm at the end of the 2009 season, Maloney has become the ironman of the NRL, playing at least 24 matches in every season since 2010.
In fact, as NRL stats guru David Middleton confirmed on social media to NRL.com National Correspondent Chris Kennedy, the five-eighth has featured in 154 matches since 2011; Melbourne's Jesse Bromwich is next best with 151.
It's an incredible achievement for anyone in the modern era – let alone a playmaker – and Maloney puts his durability down to one simple thing.
"Probably my big frame. It's hard to buckle a lot of muscle," he joked.
"I take the knocks pretty well and I try to stay out of the big fellas' way as best I can.
"The only real one (injury) I had was when I went down to Parramatta, I did the ankle and missed the whole year down there. Since then, touchwood, I've been pretty lucky."