Maloney bounces back to help secure win
IT was the Jekyll and Hyde James Maloney show. Having just clung on to his Blues Origin jersey, Maloney was in everything on Wednesday night. The good, the bad and the "Jimmy" for one of the game's most colourful characters. He brushed aside two game-changing errors to help lead the Blues to victory by laying on three tries.
Despite his impressive club form, Maloney just staved off a late push from Roosters pivot Luke Keary to retain his Origin jersey. Now he is just 80 minutes away from lifting the Origin shield - the one trophy which has eluded him in his decorated decade-long career.
If it was any other player they would have gone into their shell on Wednesday night after two massive blunders. But not Maloney. He shrugged off any self doubt and stepped up when the Blues needed him to.
Maloney was in blistering form early, helping to combine with Damien Cook before throwing the final pass to James Tedesco for NSW to open the scoring after 22 minutes. He took pressure off rookie halves partner Nathan Cleary as he took charge of steering the team around the park and helped direct NSW to complete their opening 10 sets.
But drama struck and in a big way. As the Blues mounted what looked to have been match- winning pressure - Maloney did the unthinkable. He threw an intercept pass and could only watch on as his fellow Cronulla premiership winner Valentine Holmes raced 80 metres untouched to score. Queensland looked beat before that moment. Never in the game.
The ball evoked memories of Brett Kimmorley's match-deciding intercept pass in 2005 which has plagued the halfback ever since.
Maloney would have been hoping to quickly eradicate the demons of the first half. But the 31-year-old blundered again after half-time. He threw a forward pass in the Blues' first set which immediately put the Maroons on the attack. And Queensland made them pay instantly.
Maloney - who was involved in a try-saving tackle during the ensuing set - must have felt his Origin career was coming to an end when Dane Gagai crossed after a Ben Hunt kick.
After all this was a Maloney who said this -his 10th Origin game - was an all or nothing match for his Origin career.
Maloney showed why he is a multiple premiership winner and helping lead top of the table Penrith's grand final tilt.
With the scores locked at 12-all, Maloney again came up with the big play. His cross field kick to a leaping Tom Trbojevic laid on more points for NSW. He kicked the sideline conversion to give the Blues an 18-12 lead. As the Blues raced away it was again Maloney who threw the final pass for Josh Addo-Carr's match-winning try.
Coach Brad Fittler publicly and privately questioned Maloney's defence - which contributed to his spot being in doubt. After responding in recent weeks at club level, Maloney made a statement with his defence on Wednesday night finishing with just one missed tackle.