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James Maloney braces himself before each game, especially finals, because he knows his 176cm frame is about to be given a stern physical test.

The Penrith five-eighth needs to prepare himself for the 80 minutes of pain that is coming.

Think Issac Luke's hit on Maloney in the 42nd minute of the Panthers 27-12 elimination final win over the Warriors last weekend to give you some idea.

"I reckon the last thing I think about is probably ... well, I'm pretty cruisy through warm-up but once we go back in [to dressing room], but I sort of thinking about being mentally ready for my body to hurt.

"If you ask me when I'm just about to run out what we did all week, what we saw in video I wouldn't have a clue. I just go out to play footy but my biggest trigger before I go out is to get the mindset to be ready for hurt and to push through fatigue.

"You've just got to do it. You almost tell yourself 'This is going to hurt'."

And it's all friendly fire coming his way in this Telstra Premiership Finals series, as Maloney manoeuvres around his old clubs.

"I've already hit the Warriors, about to hit Cronulla. If we were to progress [from Friday's semi-final v Sharks] it'd be Melbourne [preliminary final] and then I could meet the Roosters [grand final].

"That's quite interesting – it's like a family tree."

The 32-year-old has been nursing a neck injury for about two months, but he says he'll make it through the finals.

"I'm alright. I've got an ongoing little neck injury but I've had that for about two months now. It's just the way it is.

"I'll get it looked at and possibly fixed up in the off-season."

The winner of two premiership rings from two different clubs (Roosters 2013, Sharks 2016), Maloney understandably loves performing at this time of year.

"This is the time of the year you earn your paycheque," he said.

"I don't change the way I think, but the games become more high stakes and bigger games. That's why you like playing in them.

"It's exciting. You get a rush out of packed stadiums, noisy stadiums.

"You don't play to be good and excel in rounds one to 10. You play for this time of year to try and go as far as you can – you're testing yourself against the best."

Considering he left the Sharks under 12 months ago, he has many mates in the Shire and two inparticular attracted text messages in the lead-up to Friday's knock-out semi at Allianz Stadium.

Panthers five-eighth James Maloney.
Panthers five-eighth James Maloney. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

He rang to pass on his best to Wade Graham (torn anterior cruciate ligament) and Kurt Capewell (twisted testicle). 

"I was talking to Wal [Panthers assistant coach Peter Wallace] about it as he's the only other person I know who's had it," Maloney said on Capewell's injury.

"I've had a few texts with him to try and work out how it happened.

"I asked him 'Is it bad that I find this hilarious?' and he said 'No, I've been laughing all week'.

"Wal said he couldn't play for four weeks and Wal is very tough."

Capewell has been named on the Sharks bench two weeks after the injury.

Graham's absence is a blow because of the depth of experience and skills he possesses.

"He is a big loss. He's got a lot of footy in him, he has a calmness about him. He's also very good defensively – he gets physical and can pressure your ball players," Maloney said.

"So there's a lot he brings to a side. Whoever they bring in won't have that ball-playing – they'll be more of a running option. It changes the dynamics of that edge a bit.

"But they're still a strong side."


Experience the excitement of Finals footy this weekend. Get your tickets to week 2 of the 2018 NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series

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