NSW No. 7 incumbent Nathan Cleary admits James Maloney brings out the best in him and says the larrikin playmaker has rarely put a foot wrong on the big stage.
While Cleary says he has plenty of respect for his Origin I partner Cody Walker, he happily praised his Penrith teammate, who is suddenly right back in the hunt for the Blues' No.6 jersey when the series rolls into Perth for game two.
Big-game hunter … Nathan Cleary says Jimmy Maloney brings out his bestCredit:NRL Photos
Maloney and Walker go head to head when Penrith chase their fourth successive win against South Sydney on Saturday night.
There is plenty of debate about whether Blues coach Brad Fittler should stick with Cleary and Walker for Origin II, bring back Maloney or even reach out to Mitchell Pearce. But there is a growing belief the Panthers pair may be NSW's best package deal.
Maloney needed a big performance against the Sydney Roosters on Sunday to put himself back in the Origin frame and he produced just that.
"Jimmy does a lot for my game," Cleary said on Tuesday, when asked about his trusty soon-to-be 33-year-old five-eighth. "We saw on the weekend how energetic he was. He was in everything and back to his best. When Jimmy is at his best, he makes everyone else play better. He's that kind of influential player.
"I think he does [bring out my best]. I see him do things on the field and I want to do things as well, especially defensively when he rushes down and puts shots on someone like [James] Tedesco on the weekend. He gives everyone that extra leg up.''
Maloney lost his place to Walker in Brisbane, but maintained he would be up to the job if Fittler called on him.
When asked if the Suncorp snub had lit a fire in Maloney's belly, Cleary said: "It looked like it on the weekend. It looked like he was out to prove a point and he had his best game of the year.
"It's important for Penrith he's playing like that. It's good to play along side him when he's playing well. I know Jimmy would love to be back in Origin, but it's not up to him. All he can do is play the best he can.
"He's a big-game player. If you look back at any game in his career, if it's a big game he's always up for it. He'll always turn up and do his job.
"In saying that, I liked playing alongside Cody, and I think he has a lot to offer. Jimmy is who he is – he's a big-game player and plays well when the pressure is on and it doesn't affect him at all."
Cleary said on the night of the loss that he needed to be more dominant at certain stages of the game, and watching the replay since has only reaffirmed that view. He hopes to be on the plane to Perth come Monday with the rest of the Blues.
"We'll have to wait and see. Everyone has an opinion, and there are a lot of halves playing well," Cleary said.
"Mitch Pearce is playing really well and if they're to pick him, it definitely wouldn't be frowned upon. We'll see what happens.
"After last year I knew what [the scrutiny] was like. Physically, it's tough but the mental toll it takes on you is thousand times harder. I was more prepared for that in game one this year, and I came out feeling a lot fresher than I did last year."
Panthers winger Josh Mansour was a little more to the point and said the Blues needed to pick Maloney because of his calmness on the big stage.
Sunday week will not get any bigger as the Origin series goes on the line in front of a packed house.
"I definitely think Jimmy is built for that big-game arena … and hopefully Origin selectors regain their faith in him," Mansour said.
Meanwhile, Cleary said he would love Tyrone Peachey to return home to Penrith after the weekend reports he was not happy on the Gold Coast.
"Tyrone is an absolute freak of a player. He's the definition of X factor," Cleary said. "It was weird, he signed, then kind of didn't really want to go, but in the end had to go. It was a big contract for him. He wanted to set up his family. It's one of those things that happen in football."
Source: Read Full Article