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Panthers playmaker James Maloney.

Despite two starring performances in the No.7 for the Panthers, halfback James Maloney knows he is just warming the seat for Nathan Cleary's return.

Maloney's form since taking over the halfback position has resulted in two of the Telstra Premiership's standout performances of 2018, a dominant display against the Cowboys in round four followed by an equally as important display in Sunday's 21-6 win over the Parramatta Eels.

Although the No.7 jersey is far from unfamiliar to Maloney, he understands when Cleary makes his return from his knee injury in as few as six weeks he will shift back to the five-eighth role with Cleary again calling the shots at halfback.

"There's no doubt I'll go back to five-eighth when he comes back and we will build our side around Nath," Maloney said.

"It's a different role for me but nothing I haven't done in the past. I've played as a dominant half plenty of times before so it's not really a new role but just what I've got to do why he's not there.

"It just makes it easier, I'm in control and I know what's going on because everything is going where I want it to so I think from that perspective it makes life a little bit easier.

Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary missed several weeks early in the season with a knee injury.
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary missed several weeks early in the season with a knee injury. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

"There is no doubt we are a much better side when Nathan's there. For us now we want to set up a strong foundation and base that when Nath comes back he just falls into and can play off the back of that and add what he brings and hopefully we go to another level."

With the Holden State of Origin series eight weeks away, Maloney's on-field leadership at the Panthers has installed him as a front-runner for a spot in the NSW halves.

"I hope I'm there and there's no doubt about that, I want to be there," Maloney said.

"I think I can play the footy that will get me there but for me it's controlling this side at the moment, making sure I'm doing what I need to there and that all comes off the back of it.

"You want to be building and feel like you're playing some really good footy that you've got confidence and everything is going well for you at that time of the year.

"As we go on my footy will get better because the blokes around me and what they're doing they're already helping me."

Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket ground on Wednesday June 6. Tickets available at

Match Highlights: Eels v Panthers - Round 5; 2018

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