James Maloney has responded to suggestions he may be overlooked by NSW coach Brad Fittler for the opening game of the State of Origin series due to his ongoing defensive woes.
Maloney leads the missed tackle count with an average of 6.8 in the opening 11 rounds of the season despite lifting the Panthers to second on the Telstra Premiership ladder in an injury-ravaged start to the year.
But comments during the week by Blues great Greg Alexander, an advisor to the Origin team this year, on Fox Sports suggested Maloney’s spot was not guaranteed as Fittler was worried about the veteran playmaker’s discipline.
Alexander was more positive of Maloney’s chances on Sky Sports Radio after Penrith’s win over the Wests Tigers on Thursday night with Nathan Cleary’s return making a difference in the side’s overall cohesion.
“Obviously it’s well documented, defensively it’s been the thing,” Maloney said.
“I don’t know what to make of it. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve got no control over any of that [talk] that happens. All I can do is enjoy my footy here, play well for Penrith and hope it goes my way.
“Everyone’s going to have different opinions on how you play and all I can do is try and work on the areas that they want and hope that when they’re picking the side, they see more value in having me there than someone else.”
The 31-year-old averaged six missed tackles per game at Cronulla last season as his ageing body was targeted by the opposition on the edges.
While that number has increased in 2018, his attacking game has driven the Panthers to their best start to a season since their premiership year in 2003.
Maloney confirmed he had spoken to Fittler in previous weeks around his performances to indicate he had been all but pencilled into the side for the Holden State of Origin series opener as long as he can get through next weekend’s clash with St George Illawarra.
“Freddy spoke to me a few times in the lead-up to things about different things, just about stuff in my game,” Maloney said.
“It’s probably surprised me, the talk, because there’s been no conversations like that with Freddy.
“You need experience. Where it comes, I don’t know the whole make up of the side.
“No doubt there will be blokes who had experience there before. There will be fresh guys, at the end of the day Freddy is coming into the job and if it doesn’t work out he’s going to be the one under fire so he’ll have the side he wants.
“That’s how it’s got to be. His head’s on the chopping block, that’s how the industry goes and how footy is.
“Everything that we’ve spoken about, I’ve been on board with what he was talking about.“
Maloney admitted his combination with Nathan Cleary was behind due to the young halfback returning from a long injury lay-off.
“There’s still plenty to iron out and improve but that will take time. Unfortunately, with Nath going down we haven’t had that yet. It’s at a point but there’s a lot to work on. We’ll do that as the year goes on.”
Witness Australia’s greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Tickets available at NRL.com/tickets.