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Jimmy still delivers: Maloney's sprays steering Penrith successors

James Maloney may have taken his sprays and cheeky training potshots to southern France, but the champion playmaker's legacy at Penrith is still ringing loud and clear on finals eve.

Maloney's Super League move has undoubtedly helped Nathan Cleary's rise as a No.7, allowing him to take charge as the Panthers dominant half enroute to this year's minor premiership.

As one of the NRL's great winners, with titles at the Roosters and Sharks alongside NSW Origin series triumphs, Maloney's famed relaxed outlook on life lives on at Penrith.

The Panthers media session this week saw both Cleary and captain James Tamou pause mid-interview as Maloney's successor Jarome Luai threatened to send an electric scooter into orbit, while to a man Penrith were cracking jokes and skylarking throughout.

Cleary has often credited Maloney's influence on his playmaking.

Bulldogs v Panthers - Round 20

And Tamou also fondly recalls the lessons Maloney delivered in leadership – through that equally famed competitive streak – before linking with Catalans.

"He reads the game so well," Tamou grinned when asked of Maloney's influence during 2019, the burly prop's first as captain of Penrith.

"Something would happen, there'd be a stoppage and he'd be telling me to get into the ref [about] something that happened three or four plays ago and l'm like 'what happened?'

"But that's Jimmy. He knows the game, reads the play and that's what I still had to learn as being the captain."

Asked did he struggle with being bossed around by Maloney, Tamou's grin only grows.

"For sure, especially playing in the middle because I'd be buggered.

"But I loved him for doing that. I knew I had to keep an open mind and oversee everything that happened and take every refs call and everything like that.

"I actually didn't realise how much of a leader I am and how many years I've played in the game.

"The captain has a lot of responsibility, that's something I had take in and I was more than willing if Ivan gave me that opportunity at the start of this year.

"I wanted to do it again because last year wasn't so good."

In May last year when the Panthers were swimming in last place with a 2-8 losing record, critics questioned whether Tamou had it in him to lead a talented but wayward side.

Panthers fans farewell James Maloney at the end of 2019.
Panthers fans farewell James Maloney at the end of 2019. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Coach Ivan Cleary then shelved the captaincy chat for much of the summer, one that saw rugby league put firmly in its place for Tamou as he helped firefighting efforts around his in-law's property at Braidwood in February.

That act of leadership earned Tamou Penrith's nomination for this year's Ken Stephen Medal.

His off-season efforts meanwhile were rewarded with another crack at the captaincy, which in turn sets up a potential dream swansong before he joins Wests Tigers next season.

"With the lessons that I learnt, I knew 'ok this is what you do in these situations, this is what you do in this situation'," Tamou said.

"So I wanted that opportunity again.

"In pre-season I really made it known that I wanted to be the captain and wanted to show what lessons I'd learned and how to portray them throughout this year."

Tamou freely admits he "really didn’t want to go" after leading the Panthers 2020 turnaround.

But with his own form underlining just how many miles are left in his legs, the 31-year-old said paralleled potential at Penrith and Concord helped sway his decision.

"It wouldn't have been any other team I don't think," Tamou said.

"I would've just signed the one year [offer] from the Panthers. Ivan told me we were in a bit of trouble trying to sign the young boys... but it was also the two-year deal [from the Tigers].

"And it was their young and up and coming group at the Tigers that persuaded me.Β  They've got a good young powerful forward pack there.

"I know the fire will be burning for them next year and I'm looking forward to it."