Stat of Origin: Maloney comes to the fore
James Maloney's first ever victorious Origin campaign has come, not coincidentally, as the successful playmaking veteran produced his most polished and dominant series on a personal level.
Maloney's shift from the Warriors to the Roosters in 2013 paid immediate dividends all-round as he struck up a wonderful combination with Mitchell Pearce to guide his new club to a premiership.
Along the way he made his Holden State of Origin debut with the Blues narrowly losing the decider 12-10. Maloney was collateral damage the following year as Pearce paid for an off-field indiscretion and the in-form Bulldogs halves pair of Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson earned a rare series win.
Pearce forced his way back into the NSW side the following year while Maloney did so a year later, taking part in consecutive 2-1 series losses alongside Adam Reynolds and Matt Moylan in 2016, and Pearce in 2017.
Commanding personal form at new club Penrith saw him handed the senior halves role alongside rookie Nathan Cleary with wonderful effect in 2018 as Maloney produced his most dominant two Origins to date in his first series win.
NRL.com Stats show Maloney has flourished as the senior man while Cleary's hugely promising debut series has rightly earned him plaudits for the manner in which he has not panicked nor overplayed his hand and happily taken a back seat to let Maloney drive the team.
Maloney copped some good-humoured criticism from his coach Brad Fittler for a couple of potentially costly errors in game one but also found the match-winning plays when it mattered while he was unlucky not to receive the player of the match award for his starring role in the series-clinching game two win.
The 32-year-old has five try assists in two games this series; he had three try assists in nine games previously.
His kick-metres tallies of 396 in game one and 336 in game two are his first and third biggest kicking totals of his Origin career. Other than 346 metres in game one last year, his biggest kicking effort had been 203 in the final game of 2016. His kick metres average this series of 366 per game is well clear of his career average leading into the series of 152 from nine games.
Maloney very much played the supporting, running five-eighth role last year with Pearce in the team, producing 60 support runs at 20 per game but with chief playmaking duties this year that has plunged to 15 support runs in two games.
Maloney has never been afraid to run the ball in Origin – his career running average before this year (84 metres per game) was propped up by a massive 167 metres in 2016's second game but overall is very similar to his return of 176 metres in two games (average of 88) this year.
However while in the past he has played more of a linking and supporting role, often passing or kicking after a run, this year he has been tackled with the ball seven times each game as he looks to take the line on. He was also tackled seven times in game three last year but had previously never been tackled more than five times in a game, averaging 3.4 times in his first eight Origins.
A side-effect of the changing nature of his running game this year has been the vanishing of his tackle busts – from 15 in nine games at 1.7 per game to just one in two games this year.
Credit must go to Fittler and the rest of the coaching staff for first picking a well-balanced team and then coaching to a game plan that suited Maloney, as well as allowing Cleary to effectively ease his way into the toughest arena in the game without the pressure of being the chief playmaker as well.
There is no reason the 32-year-old Maloney can't produce a couple more good Origin series but the benefits of this year could well be felt for a decade as Cleary's origin career matures.
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