There were some big talking points in the pre-season, but nothing created the discussion that the Matt Moylan/James Maloney ‘trade’ generated.
Both clubs took a big risk with the Sharks releasing their Premiership winning pivot while the Panthers released their club captain and a local junior.
Maloney’s place in the history in the Shire is locked in despite him only playing for two seasons in the black, white and blue of Cronulla. He was named in the club’s team of the half century after just one season at the club.
Few will forget Maloney celebrating his second title win at Northies, or the footy that lead up to said celebrating. His performance against the Cowboys in the 2016 pre-lim final could be the greatest one-off performance in recent times.
Although his 2017 became more about the penalties and knock ons than his amazing footy, to let a premiership winning Origin number six walk away from the club … big risk!
Meanwhile at the foot of the mountains the Panthers were willing to let the man long seen as the future of the club walk away. Moylan, for all his talents, had too many distractions to fulfill his undoubted promise.
That being said, he was the Panthers best player, by a fair margin, when on his game.
Although both players looked as though a change of scenery might reignite their careers, both clubs took a monster risk by completing what became known as ‘the trade’.
Fast forward to the end of the 2018 season, and it’s time to rule a winner for year one of the deal.
If this was written six weeks in, the Panthers were clear winners. Moylan started fairly slowly in his new role in the Shire while Maloney hit the ground running.
Gone were the penalties and knock ons, to be replaced by Dally M medal contention form.
Moylan showed glimpses but ultimately became targeted in defense and at times looked lost in attach.
Panthers fans took to social media to claim an early victory after Moylan was shifted to fullback in hopes it would reignite his attacking prowess and shield him in defense.
Round seven saw the tables start to turn after Moylan and his Sharks got one over their Western counterparts via a 26-22 win. The contest was built as a straight shoot out between the two Origin number sixes, with Moylan taking the contest on points.
By the time the two sides met again in round 18, Moylan had found his feet and delivered some dazzling displays. His six try-assists against the Knights in round 12 was the easiest game of the season to allocate Dally M points.
Cronk, Thurston, Moylan … that is rare company when it comes to delivering six try assists in one game.
Although Moylan missed the return clash due to Origin commitments, Moylan was again the star of the show, scoring a try and delivering the match-winning try assist to Valentine Holmes in front of his former home crowd.
Both Maloney and Moylan were the go-to in attack for their respective sides in the build up to the finals.
The Sharks finished in fourth spot while Maloney lead the Panthers to fifth.
Although Moylan held a 2-0 lead over his former club and saw his side finish a game clear of his supposed rival, the knock out blow was delivered on a beautiful Friday evening in September.
The Sharks and Panthers met for a chance to play the Storm. The two star number sixes lined up to oppose each other directly. You simply could not have written a better script.
What happened over the next 80 minutes, for mine, decided the result of the Moylan/Maloney trade.
Just like the contest, the Sharks won.
Moylan targeted Maloney and tore him to pieces in that first half. His ball to Lewis exposed Maloney in a big way and sent the Sharks out to an 18-0 lead.
Although the Panthers fought back, Moylan was in everything. His try saving tackle in the opening minutes set the scene and you simply can’t look past Maloney grasping at thin air while Lewis ran, untouched, to the line off the back of a perfect Moylan ball.
The Sharks brought Moylan to the club with a view to the long-term.
He was many years younger than the man he replaced in Maloney and as a career fullback, was always going to take time to convert to a full time number six.
Maloney was brought to the club to deliver a premiership and mentor Nathan Cleary.
Although I would argue that both men had outstanding seasons and both achieved their goals, the Sharks can claim a decisive victory in the 2018 season.
Both players had wonderful 2018 seasons and both sets of fans can be very happy with their results. That said, it was the Sharks, on the back of a Moylan masterclass, that went that step further.