Laid-back Penrith Panthers five-eighth James Maloney has laughed off suggestions of supposed unrest within the club and questions over coach Anthony Griffin, declaring the side would be ready to roll against the Parramatta Eels on Sunday afternoon.
Penrith’s only trial hit-out with all their playmakers available ended in a dire 24-10 loss to a reserve-grade Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs outfit at Belmore Sportsground. Griffin didn’t make an interchange in the opening 40 minutes and the side flagged badly after a sharp start.
A very relaxed Maloney on Monday said it can be tough to stay motivated in a trial against a depleted team but said he had a great working relationship with Griffin. He also brushed suggestions the club’s general manager of football Phil Gould was assuming a greater hands-on role to the detriment of the coach.
“Everywhere you go you’ve got a head coach and he’s got his assistants that deal with different areas, there’s nothing different there. You’ve got Cam Ciraldo there, Gus chimes in at different times and Hook running the show,” Maloney said of the club’s current set-up.
Of his own first impressions of the laconic coach, Maloney laughed: “I get on good with Hook, he’s been really good. He doesn’t mind me having a joke. It’s good here.”
Maloney compared the relationship at times to a teacher where Maloney is the kid up the back swinging on his chair, but also added the new environment had forced him to develop his leadership skills as well.
“I’ve sort of got no choice but to take on this leadership role which is something new for me,” he continued.
“It’s something I’ve got to work on but it’s exciting, a new challenge and gives you a bit of ownership of the side and what happens.”
A big part of that will be helping young halfback Nathan Cleary learn his trade, including taking the pressure off him when it comes to guiding the team around.
“I’ve been excited to work with Nath. He’s a tremendous kid, heaps of talent, really down to earth, he works hard, he’s always working on his game,” Maloney said.
“It’s nice to be able to maybe have some sort of influence on where he goes and helping him develop and come through and be someone to take pressure off him at times and probably help bring some of his strengths out even more. It’s exciting.”
The pair’s only on-field hit-out came in that Belmore trial and for the opening 20 minutes they looked sharp. Working off a pack that was getting the better of an inexperienced opposition, the pair kicked to corners, hemmed the Dogs in their own end, created the first try (a nice Cleary short-ball that sent Reagan Campbell-Gillard crashing over) and should have had a second through a deft Cleary grubber behind the line only for centre Tyrone Peachey to miss the grounding.
The team as a whole fell away from their task from that point as the disciplined Dogs stuck to their task but Maloney said he wasn’t the slightest bit fazed by the loss.
“When you’re running out against a really understrength side, it’s hard to keep the excitement and enthusiasm up, you’re not playing for anything and you can start going through the motions a little bit,” he said.
“I think we just fell asleep a little bit going through the motions there. It’s nothing that concerns me. The boys are ready to go. I’d expect a good performance come Sunday.”
He maintained there are “plenty of points” in the team, provided they are prepared to start with a good defensive base.
“We want to be able to play footy and not be afraid to have a crack when we see things,” he said.
“The idea of our attacking structure is set up to take a bit of a load off Nathan with the organising where everyone sort of falls into place and everyone gets an opportunity to play eyes up and play what’s in front of them. I think it’s developing nicely and we’ll see on Sunday.”