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Panthers five-eighth James Maloney.

Phil Gould described James Maloney as one of the most influential recruits in Penrith's 53-year history and Ivan Cleary concedes the veteran five-eighth may be too valuable to send off to England a year early.

Maloney was superb once more in the Panthers 40-18 demolition of the Dragons on Friday night, setting up three tries and orchestrating with aplomb alongside returning No.7 Nathan Cleary.

Outgoing Penrith boss Gould was instrumental in signing Maloney from Cronulla at the end of 2017, and hailed the 33-year-old as one of the best buys in the club's history in commentary on Channel Nine.

Maloney's influence on the Panthers young playing group has been a key factor in their seven-game winning streak with another NSW series win to boot for the cheeky playmaker.

Both he and Penrith have been open to an early exit from his 2020 deal to pursue a Super League swansong, with interest from Leeds and Catalans ramping up of late.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Dragons

But given Penrith's resurgence has coincided with Maloney's own surge and Tyrone May's future remains clouded by his off-season sex-tape scandal and resulting court case, coach Cleary is having a rethink.

"It's a good question," Cleary said when asked about potentially releasing Maloney early.

"Part of the reason we possibly could have when Tyrone May was in the equation but that's very much up in the air.

"[I'm] not sure, pretty happy he's on contract next year.

"The footy he's playing though, I think he could stay in the NRL. But we'll wait and see."

Maloney's marquee salary would free up significant cash for Penrith to go to market next year, but the club is backing Jarome Luai as Cleary's long-term halves partner.

Maloney and Cleary combine to all but seal it

The Kiwi dynamo proved a handful coming off the bench as another playmaker in the middle against the Dragons, a role the coach plans to use Luai in as Maloney and Cleary steer his improving attack.

"We've been thinking about that for a while when we were getting Jimmy back [from NSW Origin duty]," Cleary said.

"It's good to get him some game time playing at six but he's pretty versatile.

"We'll keep playing around with that one, but Jarome's definitely a threat when he gets out there and I thought he was very good, bought some energy tonight for us."

In commentary Gould likened Luai's 'third playmaker' role to that filled by Michael Morgan during the back half of Queensland's Origin dynasty.

"That's one of the things he can do," Cleary said.

"He also covers just about every position on the field so it's handy to have someone like that. It's a good one for us to keep playing with."


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