Maloney Backs Stronger Pearce
Four years after their last Origin together and nearly two years after their last club game together, James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce are ready to rekindle their 2013 premiership-winning combination to help guide NSW to a rare series win over Queensland.
Maloney was "stoked" to see his old mate back in sky blue after a troubled 2016 and expected their old combination would gel again quickly.
"He's probably in the best form of his career, he looks really mature and really calm in what he's doing at the moment," Maloney said from Blues camp in Kingscliff on Wednesday.
"It's nice to have a familiar face and someone whose game you know really well. It obviously helps with the short preparation where you can just fall back in.
"We've had three years together [at the Roosters] so we've got a fair understanding of what each other are about and what we do and hopefully that will help everything just click when we get out and hit the training paddock."
Pearce earlier in the week said the Blues would look to employ a style similar to the Roosters, where new five-eighth Luke Keary plays a similar style to Maloney. Both Pearce and coach Laurie Daley have pointed to a new game plan that gives the halves greater control than previous years over how the team is run.
"I think you've got to [run the team] in the halves, you've got to own that," Maloney agreed.
"There's no point getting picked in this side and trying to play a style that you're not comfortable with.
"It's about moulding the guys around us, us working with [hooker Nathan] Peats and 'Teddy' (fullback James Tedesco) and finding how they want to get the ball anything they want to run then around that.
"Our middles have got a pretty simple job, they lay a platform for us. They've done that really well the last couple of years so it's just about making sure we put the icing on top of that and feed the ball the right way and create some opportunities."
The flat-and-fast Roosters style alluded to by Pearce would also suit Origin, according to Maloney.
"Origin doesn't have to be the most complex game plan, it's about making sure you can identify quick play the balls, I think is your biggest thing," he said.
"And when they happen, getting the ball over the advantage line and asking questions of the defence. I'm sure it'll follow that."
Pearce's selection created plenty of conjecture among fans, as it inevitably does; whether this is the year he steps up and dominates Origin is yet to be seen but there is no question he has found the knack of closing out games.
A field goal against an (admittedly injury-hit) Dragons side in Round 8 and a match-sealing late try in a tight win over the Bulldogs last week were eye-catching. A starring role in a big win over the Eels a fortnight ago punctuate his current rich vein of form.
"There's just a real calmness in key moments which comes through the older you get and the more mature you get," Maloney said.
"He's [still] the same bloke around the place here, he's good fun and fun to have around. I think you see this year he's come up with some big plays to ice games for the Roosters and he's done it time and time again this year.
"I think that's probably the biggest difference and I suppose people that have been critical of him in the past it's probably been for that so I think he's as [well] placed as ever to come in and shine at this level."
Maloney acknowledged Pearce had "been through a lot" in the past year and a half but seemed to come out the other side stronger. The Roosters playmaker has also had a tendency to carry more than his fair share of blame for Blues losses, Maloney added.
"I was stoked to see him get the call up because how hard he works… in this arena in the past I think he's shouldered a lot of blame that wasn't always on him," Maloney said.
"It's a credit to him he never tries to palm it off, he accepts it, it is what it is and moves on and comes out bigger and better. I can't wait for him to go out and hopefully get a series win and be able to give it to all the critics."
This article first appeared on NRL.com