Jimmy Maloney, the man who couldn’t lose
Some call it mental toughness. Some call it the ability to "goldfish". Whatever it is, James Maloney does it on instinct. And time and again, this serial winner has proven his doubters wrong.
A young Parramatta recruit, they say, who was leading his reserve-graders through an ordinary opposed session against the club's top squad.
And then, that pass.
One ugly, spiralling heave that sailed not only past its intended target - or the man outside him - but eventually finished so far over the sideline that Eels coach Michael Hagan, visibly fuming, called time on the whole session.
Which understandably, raised eyebrows. But Maloney?
"He jogged off completely oblivious," says one there. "It was so Jimmy."
Call it the greatest catchphrase anywhere in the NRL right now.
A buzzword to rival completions, KPIs and whatever it is Bradley Charles Stubbs whispers into ears at $10,000 an hour.
For what Maloney has, everyone wants it. Not only NRL types either, but cricketers, PGA golfers, even Olympians.
A truth proved by the growing number of mentalists, sports psychologists, even Amway salesman, now finding a way into sport.
Take rugby league, where Coach Whisperer Stubbs is joined by a cast of characters including Joe Wehbe, John Novak, Nam Baldwin, Ric Charlesworth, Phil Jauncey, even hypnosis expert Mark Stephens.
All of them hired to teach what Maloney knows instinctively: How to Win.
And for proof, look at last Sunday, when a bloke whose Origin career was over went and won NSW the game anyway.
Especially when recalling how, a week earlier on The Sunday Footy Show, no less than Andrew Johns suggested Maloney's Origin time was done. Same deal coach Brad Fittler, who when discussing his recall joked, "I rang Braith Anasta, but he couldn't play."
So, yes, Jake Trbojevic earned Man of the Match. And Tommy Turbo, The Daily Telegraph's front page.
Still, the heartbeat of this 38-6 win was So Jimmy.
"Like he'd never left," the elder Trbojevic said after Origin II. "He was out there barking at everyone, explaining exactly what we needed."
So much so, Fittler admitted afterwards to leaving even his half-time speech to the No.6.
Which is classic Freddy, sure. Always ensuring the praise goes elsewhere.
Still, when it comes to Maloney, the coach is happy to give it.
Which is why every mentalist alive would love to open the little bloke's melon and dissect an Origin week effort that, by our count, and in Coach Whisperer terms, is worth exactly $1.68 million to the NSW Blues.
Maloney was so good that in the winning sheds afterwards, his ability to endure was being hailed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, boxer Danny Green, even Blues winger Blake Ferguson screaming, "He's a winner, just keeps winning".
So c'mon Jimmy, what's your secret?
Give us the good oil on Australia's greatest sports mentality.
"Ah, mate," Maloney drawls, "I'm just that kid who always threw his cricket bat."
"You think it's something amazing?" he grins. "Something big?
"I'm just a bad loser. Always have been."
LISTEN! In a special one-on-one interview Matty sits down with Sam Burgess to talk through the highs and lows of his career, his desire to play at Manly and his venture into rugby union.
Yet before Sydney's parents start encouraging kids to hurl Gray-Nicolls scoops, know Maloney is underplaying this, like always.
Take his ability to "Goldfish" - to make a mistake and, immediately, move on. Like it never happened.
Which is an incredibly desirable trait, sure - think the sporting equivalent of Mark Manson's bestseller "The Subtle Art of Not Giving of a F*ck" - but one Maloney fobs off on head knocks, tossed cricket bats, even "not being that smart".
But guess what? We rang his older teacher at St Edward's College, East Gosford.
And according to Mr Carpenter: "Jimmy's so much smarter than he gets credited for."
Close mate Mitchell Pearce agrees.
"Oh, he enjoys the facade," Pearce says of the Maloney larrikin character. "But he's among the smartest players I know.
"While everyone talked up Origin II as The Trbojevic Show, it was his control that won it.
"He'd actually make a great assistant coach."
But not a head coach? "Oh, no," Pearce laughs. "He's too rat's arse."
Maybe, but not too rat's arse for winning.
Although know that Maloney will tell you his premiership rings, Origin titles, even Kangaroo jerseys are all due to the same dumb luck that now sees "barbecuing alone" part of the rugby league vernacular.
"But it's not," insists Hayden Knowles, head of performance for Penrith and NSW.
"It's mental toughness.
"In sport, the greatest compliment an athlete can receive is being described 'mentally tough'. And Jimmy Maloney, he defines it."
Which is why, despite being among the lightest players in the NRL, despite missing tackles, conceding penalties and being no good with his fists, Maloney gets it done.
Told as a kid he was too small to make it, Jimmy endured. Same deal when dad Brian, a carpenter, died in 2009, his body riddled with asbestos.
Indeed, it had been the old man who, watching his son play for Ourimbah Magpies one Sunday afternoon, would lecture afterwards about how a tackle Jimmy missed after grubbering at the tryline, one that allowed the opposition fullback, scrambling, back into the field of play, changed the game.
Which, dad said, is how rugby league goes. Certain plays are responsible for outcomes, only nobody knows which ones.
"So," he said, "get yourself in the right position on all of them."
And every day since, Maloney has focused on that goal.
So Joey says you're Origin days are over? Doesn't matter.
"Because have you seen his tips?" the five-eighth cackles. "Great player, horrific judge."
Same deal with Freddy's Anasta joke - one deemed, in some quarters, offensive not only to Maloney, but dumped Souths No.6 Cody Walker.
"But some blokes don't have a sense of humour," Maloney shrugs. "We're all so politically correct these days, no one can laugh anymore."
So no dramas about being dumped yourself from Origin I?
"How could I be upset," he continues, "when everything's in my control.
"Getting overlooked, my form dictated that."
And as for his ability to bounce back last Sunday night after throwing not one but two forward passes to prop Daniel Saifiti and winger Josh Addo-Carr?
"They weren't forward," Maloney insists.
Neither of them?
"Nup. Especially the pass to Fox, that was a try," he says. "But regardless, I can't change it.
"So why worry? I can only control what's coming next …"
And so, he does. Like this Sunday afternoon, across the ditch at Mt Smart Stadium, when Maloney will look to continue the Panthers' run of four straight wins against the Warriors, who are among his old clubs.
Which reminds us of a story from 2010.
When only days after arriving in Auckland from the Melbourne Storm, Maloney explained to coach Ivan Cleary how he wanted extra time off given his Stormers had won the premiership.
Nothing too long, he said. Just a couple of weeks.
At which point, Cleary thought it necessary to remind his recruit how, apart from not playing in the grand final himself, he'd also earned just four top-grade games that year. So no, forget the holiday extension.
To which Maloney said sweet, then got his backside into training.
Within two years, he was leading the Warriors from second-last to an NRL Grand Final.
Again, So Jimmy.
MIGHTY MALONEY'S X-FACTOR
Unable to crack a first-grade spot with Parramatta, James Maloney stars in NSW Cup with the Wentworthville Magpies - leading them to a grand final win over Newtown.
Not only makes his NRL debut for Melbourne, but plays four games in a Storm outfit that will eventually win the grand final, have the premiership stripped and enter into rugby league infamy. Also signs with the Warriors that year.
Maloney needs only two years at the NZ Warriors to lift the club from second-last into an NRL grand final. Also finished the year as the Warriors' highest points scorer.
In his first year with the Roosters, helps the Bondi boys to a premiership. On grand final day, the five-eighth set up two tries and kicked five goals. Also leads Country Origin to a win over City and makes his NSW debut.
A surprise selection as Country Origin captain, Maloney leads the bush boys to a big win over City in Wagga. It was his second straight win in the annual Origin trial. Finished as the competition's highest points scorer for the second straight year.
When Maloney arrives at Cronulla, the Sharkies have gone 49 years without a premiership. By the end of that same year, the larrikin No.6 has ensured the famed "porch light"
can finally go out forever.
Elsewhere, is named Dally M Five-eighth of the Year and makes the Australian squad that claims the 2016 Four Nations title.
Part of the Australian Kangaroos squad that wins the 2017 World Cup. Also joins Penrith on a deal reportedly worth $2.4 million.
Since the Origin retirement of Andrew Johns, no playmaker has done more for NSW than Maloney. Despite entering the 2018 series with question marks over his defence, attitude - everything - the gritty No.6 proves outstanding, leading the Blues to just their second series win over Queensland in 13 years.