James Maloney has revealed that he was axed as NSW five-eighth by text, says he's ready for a comeback and wants the Blues to stand by halfback Nathan Cleary.
Maloney was dumped by the Blues after a poor start to the season for Penrith. But with a form revival, NSW's Origin I defeat and memories of his series-winning heroics last year, the veteran No.6 is now being touted as a potential saviour in game two.
“I’ve been in the game long enough now to not read too much into paper talk, and that’s probably the perfect reason why you don’t,” Maloney said on League Life.
“The moods and the way things swing is just ridiculous. I’ve been around long enough to know the opinions that matter and listen to them, and the ones that don’t. You just take them as a [grain] of salt."
Maloney said that he was at training when NSW coach Brad Fittler tried to call him on the day the Blues team was named. He was dropped for South Sydney five-eighth Cody Walker.
“When I got back to my phone, I had a missed call from Freddy,” Maloney said.
“He just sent me a text saying, ‘Look, mate, we’re gonna go with Cody’. He said, ‘Thanks so much for last year, I’ll always be grateful for that’.
“I just texted back, ‘Mate, not a problem. Completely understand and I’ll be at home cheering you on’.
“There was no hard feelings. Last year, he gave me an opportunity to win a series and play an important role. I’m grateful for that and he was grateful for the job I did."
Yet Walker had a tough Origin debut, in which he was replaced during the second half. He did not have much impact on the game until he returned for the final 10 minutes.
“That’s nothing to do with me; whatever happened there," Maloney said.
“I always knew if NSW got beat, there’d be scrutiny on the halves. It’s how it is, we’ve been through it, everyone’s been through it.
“Probably my biggest concern, I’ve seen Mitchell Pearce be the scapegoat for years and I didn’t want that for Nathan.
“But I spoke to him, he’s a big boy, he understands; and I thought he did some really good things out there [in Origin I]. I thought Cody had some really nice touches at times there as well."
With calls growing for Mitchell Pearce to be recalled by NSW, Maloney said that he'd play alongside anyone if given another opportunity. But he said that the Blues should persist with Cleary, who at 21 has been solid but unspectacular thus far in his Origin career.
“If I was playing, I’d play with anyone in a NSW jersey. That’s not my decision," Maloney said.
“I’ve got no doubt Mitchell’s playing really good footy. I don’t think there was anything drastically wrong with the way Nathan performed.
“Last year when they made the call on Nathan, it was a long-term plan. I think he’s got to stay there for that; if that’s why it was made, I think he’s got to be there.
“And I think he’s the right option as a long-term halfback there. But at the moment, the expectation on him … he’s still young and he’s still learning. It’s only his second series.
“Everyone’s expecting him to play like a bloke who’s played 15, 20 Origins, and that just can’t happen. You can’t flick a switch. You’ve got to learn those things on the run.
“He will and he’ll keep getting better and better at that level. I just think he needs some help along the way early on."
Maloney was crucial to NSW winning last year's series. Having also won two NRL grand finals, he said that he prided himself on his performances in big games.
“My opinion of myself hasn’t changed. I know that I’m really competitive, I always have been. I’ve been a sore loser since I was knee-high and none of that’s changed," he said.
“Probably one of the raps I’ve heard a few times that I probably take the most pride in is that people say, the bigger the game, the better he plays. I feel that that’s a pretty awesome rap to have on you from people.
“That’s why we play. We love playing in big occasions. That’s your dream. You want to play NRL, you want to play in grand finals, you want to play in Test matches, State of Origins.
“If that’s what you want to do, you’ve got to play well there.”