Rugby League

‘Big game player’: Cleary backs Maloney ahead of Blues audition against Walker

NSW State of Origin playmaker Nathan Cleary has given Penrith teammate James Maloney a ringing endorsement, describing him as the ultimate big-game player and one of the NRL’s most influential stars.

It sets the stage for a mouth-watering head-to-head battle between South Sydney’s Cody Walker and Maloney when their NRL sides clash at ANZ Stadium on Saturday afternoon, during which the Blues No.6 jumper will be on the line.

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After Cleary and Walker failed to get the job done in NSW’s 18-14 game one loss to Queensland, the Rabbitohs five-eighth’s position is uncertain especially after he was benched midway through the second half at Suncorp Stadium.

Despite guiding NSW to a rare title win last year, Maloney was overlooked for the series opener because of his lacklustre start to 2019.

However, he rebounded in resounding fashion in the Panthers’ 19-10 win over the Sydney Roosters last week during which he came up with three try assists and seemingly everything he touched turned to gold.

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“Jimmy was just on fire on the weekend, he was everywhere,” Cleary said.

“I love playing alongside Jimmy when he’s like that. It shows with the team as well.

“Jimmy’s probably one of the most influential players in the comp. When he’s on, most of the team is on.”

Wherever Maloney has gone in his career, success has followed. He helped the Warriors to a grand final before winning NRL premierships with the Roosters and Cronulla.

Cleary praised Walker, saying their combination would only grow if they were given more time together but said Maloney was ready-made for Origin.

Nathan Cleary and James Maloney were at the top of their games against the defending premiers on Sunday.Source:News Corp Australia

“Jimmy is a big-game player and he’s shown that all throughout his career, semi- finals, grand finals, Origins, he always plays well in those big games,” Cleary said.

“Whenever he’s given the opportunity to play in a big game, he’ll never let you down.”

Due to the short preparation for Origin II in Perth, the Blues will have just three training session together along with a light captain’s run on game eve, making pre-existing combinations all the more important.

Two months ago Fittler declared that Cleary and Maloney had never got the balance right in their partnership and “I don’t think they’ve actually ever been a great combination”.

Pressed on Fittler’s observation, Cleary said: “We’re both quite similar players, we’re both halfbacks.

“But we’re finding ways around that and I thought we combined well on the weekend and we’re constantly working hard.”

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Originally published as‘Big game player’: Cleary backs Maloney ahead of Blues audition against Walker

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