Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga believes James Maloney will shine at the Penrith Panthers and be just what young gun Nathan Cleary needs to take his game to the next level.
Maloney will return to the Test side on Saturday night at the Sydney Football Stadium when Australia take on Lebanon after having missed last weekend’s 52-6 win over France due to a personal matter.
Meninga said Maloney has slotted back into camp well and not been distracted despite his imminent signing with Penrith still to be ratified by the NRL due to negotiations over the third-party aspect of the deal.
“He’s been very good, been very positive, it’s been a challenging time for him but he’s handled it really well in camp. He’s really keen to play really well tomorrow,” Meninga said during Friday’s training camp in Narrabeen.
In regards to the contract talks that have been surrounding Maloney and Matt Moylan, Meninga brushed off any negative impact.
“I wouldn’t think so, I mean it’s all good isn’t it? That’s all positive around what he’s doing, his contract’s probably the least of his issues, at the moment,” Meninga said.
Provided the NRL sign-off on Maloney’s move to Penrith, Meninga says the veteran playmaker would be the ideal foil for Cleary.
“He’s a great acquisition, what Jimmy brings is a wealth of experience,” he said.
“He’s a great talker, he understands the game, he’s an intelligent player, he’s a winner, he understands how you win because he’s been at clubs that have won grand finals.
“He’s played rep football, all that experience is going to help Nathan, I think it’s a great acquisition.”
Australia and Lebanon will meet for the first time in Test history, and Meninga isn’t taking the Cedars lightly.
“They deserve to be where they are, they had a good victory against France I thought. We’re not going to be taking them lightly,” he said.
“We just need to stick to our plan, we need to improve every week.”
Meninga is also aware of just how good Robbie Farrah has been in the halfback position for Lebanon.
“He’s been going good, he’s a smart player, he has a great kicking game and a great temperament,” he said.
“Nothing phases him, defensively he’s sound, playing the seven almost suits him, it looks like he’s enjoying it. He’s a dangerous proposition, him and Mitchell Moses, we’ve done a lot of work on them this week.”
Casting an eye towards the quarter-finals, Meninga said the clash with Lebanon would help him settle on who plays once the business end of the tournament arrives.
“We’re opening it up to everyone, the certainties are Smith, Cronk and Slater, we’re still having a think about things,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll play against Samoa in the quarter finals so we’ll pick a team that’s very competitive against them.”