By STEVE MASCORD
HERE’S the thing about James Maloney. Call it a life lesson, if you wish.
If you believe what you read, his brashness hurt him in Melbourne. He walked into the joint and treated superstars like he had known them all his life, taking the Mickey out of professionals who weren’t really even sure who he was.
They didn’t like it, so the story goes. But he didn’t change.
And four years later it was the very same qualities – brashness, confidence – that got him selected for NSW for all three Origin games of the series and made him the first Blues five-eighth to ever win on debut.
It would be easy to describe it as an example to all of us who are put under pressure to change. The example being, “don’t”. A-List sets out to discover if it’s all that simple.
“I suppose I’m not too shy in meeting people and things like that,” Maloney, who was 22 when he was at the Storm in 2009, says as we sit down in the foyer of the Coogee Crowne Plaza
“It never sort of phased me. There’re a few stories from the Melbourne days that have been reported and they’re a bit glorified, I think, but they’re based on truth. There’s some truth to them.
“It was all just … I walk in, I am who I am and that’s the way it was. I got on with a lot of the boys down there – sweet. I suppose when I first got in, they might have been like that but I have a good relationship with most of the boys down there.”
Maloney played only four first grade games for the Storm but one of them was his proudest moment. He made his debut two months after his father, country football star Brian, died following a long illness. It was Brian who encouraged Maloney to join the Storm.
The decisions to join the Warriors and then to sign with Sydney Roosters a year in advance, however, “Jimmy” made on his own. They required confidence – a quality that may have rubbed some in Melbourne the wrong way – and they have borne fruit. Spectacularly so.
James doesn’t seem a huge fan of this subject, his supposed cockiness, but he admits it has helped him in recent times.
“I think that being confident and backing your ability and that … I think that’s a big part of how you go on the field and I suppose coming into an arena like State Of Origin, there’s so many quality players around that you can’t afford to be overawed,” he says, through a lips that are only just healing from a horrible laceration suffered in Townsville.
“….otherwise you’re not going to be there long. Playing in the halves, it’s part of the territory. You’ve got to be able to control things and push blokes around the park and tell them what to do so, yeah, I suppose it helps being like that.”
Maloney’s story so far is one of a man who may not have reached his current heights if not for taking the right turn at various intersections. Then again, other choices may have led him to greater success, earlier, too.
Geography – Orange to Ourimbah to western Sydney and onto Melbourne and Auckland – played a role. So too, as things turn out, did climate.
“I was born in Orange and then when I was 10, moved to the Central Coast and grew up there,” he says. “We were at Orange and a few of mum’s brothers were on the Central Coast and she had family in Newcastle. I think they were sick of the cold out there. They wanted to get closer to the coast so that was the main reason.
“I first came into Sydney through North Sydney. My last year, in the 20s, I came down and played with North Sydney
“Under 9s was my last year out at Orange then obviously I grew up playing at St Edwards Ourimbah on the Central Coast. It was a school (side) but they also had a club side on the weekend.
“Sport, as a kid … you love playing sport and dad being a footballer, he used to coach me through a lot of my early years. You just sort of fell into it I suppose. I always wanted to play footy. Mum wouldn’t let me when I was real young.
“It wasn’t until under eights, not until I was eight. “
Maloney was in the fulltime squad at Parramatta in his first year there, 2007. But an ankle injury put paid to that campaign. “It was my first real injury and, being a young bloke, I sort of stuffed around with it and didn’t take the rehab and the physio as seriously as I should have,” he concedes.
So the next year, he found himself with feeder team Wentworthville. “We had Joey Galuvao, Jeremy Latimore, Brod Wright, Johnno Wright. We’re still good mates,” he recalls.
“I had a couple of games where I was on standby to make my (NRL) debut but it didn’t quite happen. I think, at the time, I thought I was playing good enough footy to earn a crack. I was off contract, (Michael Hagan) wanted me to stay but the opportunity in Melbourne came up. I spoke to my old boy about it and he was pretty keen. We looked at it and he said ‘there’re not many footballers that go to down to Melbourne and don’t improve as footballers’ and that was sort of the reason for going there.”
He was close to an Origin call-up a number of times in his three years at the Warriors (2010-12). Maloney’s signing with the Roosters with a year left at Mt Smart prompted widespread debate on the current rules regarding transfers.
“I don’t like the fact that you can change your mind,” he says, when asked about the NRL’s refusal to register a contract any earlier than June 30 the previous year.
“I think that’s pretty ordinary. I think that if you’re going to do something, that’s what you do. Signing 12 months out, that’s a hard thing. There’s no real … I haven’t come across a perfect system. They tried the June 30 and I think everyone knew there was plenty (of negotiation) going on before June 30. As soon as June 30 hit, there were 20 contracts being registered on that day, so it’s a hard thing to police. If you’re going 12 months out, being able to change your mind and renege and all that is a bit … it causes dramas. Personally, it didn’t bother me signing 12 months out.
“I had security for the next year plus three on top of that so I had four years sorted out. It’s good to know, now with kids and a family, you’ve got to plan things. If I was going to Queensland, I can’t just pick up and move. So as far as the players are concerned, I think it works for them.”
The Roosters did try to get him to cross the ditch early. “We asked the Warriors and they said ‘no, you’re here for your contract’ and that was the end of it”.
As we said earlier, it was be easy to contend Maloney’s refusal to be anything other than team joker has served him well. But he does seem to have toned it down. At the Warriors he would try to distract team-mates who were being interviewed.
At the Roosters and the NSW camp, he’s more….respectful.
Despite what this story may have been trying to argue up til now, Maloney says listening to criticism is important. So is filtering the brickbats that are constructive from those that are not.
“I think there’s a mix,” he says, when pressed.
“You don’t want to be a person who says ‘this is me, beat it. That’s my way of doing things’ but I think in general I’m an easy person to get along with.
“I think, everywhere you go in terms of different clubs, footballers, they’re all very similar. Whether you know them before you get there, it doesn’t take long before you form those bonds.”
Still a life lesson, then. Just not a cliché…
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK