Hook: NRL poorer for Maloney exit
James Maloney is one of the last of a rare breed of "footballers" in the modern game.
His move to Super League club Catalan Dragons will be a huge loss to the NRL, the NSW Blues and Penrith.
Just like Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, Jimmy is not just a player, he is a leader and teacher, an on-field coach for his teammates.
He gets it - a game of football - and to him it is still a game.
While a lot of young playmakers flip through their playbooks preparing for a game, Jimmy is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and what its going to take over 80 minutes to wear them down.
This year's Origin series was a classic example.
After looking lost and vulnerable in their series-opening, the Blues turned to Jimmy and looked unbeatable in Perth as they squared the series.
Brad Fittler said of Jimmy after the 38-6 victory: "He is just a winner; he just finds a way to win.
"He steered us around and I didn't have to talk at halftime because he was talking so that is good."
I know exactly where Freddy is coming from.
LISTEN! Matty's back with Kenty and Finchy and they run the rule over the Raiders premiership chances, try to understand what's happening at the Sharks and look back at the '89 grand final and ask what would have happened in the Tigers won.
At Penrith in round eight last year, we were playing Canterbury on a Friday night at home. Nathan Cleary, Peter Wallace and Waqa Blake were missing due to injury and our fullback, Dylan Edwards, dislocated his shoulder in the 12th minute.
Jimmy is our last playmaker standing.
The Bulldogs have us by the throat after 25 minutes, leading 12-2. We started to build some momentum but were losing composure with unnecessary offloads by some of our young forwards.
Finally, we cracked them a minute before halftime to close the gap to 12-8.
Making my way to the sheds at halftime I'm frustrated by our lack of composure, but really impressed with our attitude.
Entering the rooms Maloney is holding court.
"Ay listen here you blokes, let's keep our heads here," he says.
"Piss those offloads off. We don't have to trick our way out of this.
"We'll grind these blokes down. They won't go with us.
"We've got the points in us boys. Let's just keep working for each other in defence and be patient".
We went out and dominated the second half to win 22-14. It was an invaluable football lesson for a young team.
Earlier this year I thought if Penrith were going to release him, Jimmy would be a great pick up for Brisbane or the Gold Coast. Both clubs have invested in young halves in Tom Dearden and Ash Taylor.
Maloney would be a fantastic mentor for them as he has been for Nathan Cleary.
Nathan has had the benefit of learning off Jimmy early in his career which will be invaluable for him and the Panthers in the future.
Similar to the Cronk-Luke Keary partnership at the Sydney Roosters.
In one of Jimmy's first sessions at the Panthers in the pre-season of 2018 we were preparing to run an opposed game.
Jimmy would control one team and Nathan the other. The game was modified so each team had only four plays, instead of six, and they earned points by winning field position.
The outcome you were after was well-placed kicks backed up by gut-busting chase, intense defence and kick pressure.
"So, you can kick whenever you want?" Jimmy asks inquisitively.
"That's right mate," I tell him.
"And it's only four tackles?" he checks.
"Yes mate," I confirm.
After 10 minutes we call the game off because Jimmy has the other team pinned inside their own 20 metres and they can't get out.
Since the kick-off he has been barking orders and kicking his opposition to death with perfectly placed kicks, mostly on plays two and three.
Sometimes you only realise how good someone is when they're gone.
Jimmy has a reputation as a bit of a pest, annoying and he talks too much. I will admit I did enjoy the peace and quiet of his absence at times. But you want him playing for you, not against you.
And he's a great bloke to boot.
The Catalan Dragons will go to another level next year, just like every other team for whom he has played.
Jimmy is a great footballer and leader. Penrith and the NSW Blues will miss him.