When James Maloney’s agent called him to say the New Zealand Warriors were interested in signing him, Maloney’s response was unequivocal.
“I said, ‘You’re kidding, mate, keep looking’,” Maloney says now with a smirk.
Even though he had played only four games for the Melbourne Storm in 2009 and was desperate to find a club that might give him more first-grade opportunities, the Warriors didn’t interest him. He didn’t fancy the travel and didn’t fancy New Zealand.
Now, virtually every club in the competition fancies him.
Maloney has become one of the NRL’s standout players and many are calling for him to be part of Australia’s squad for the upcoming Four Nations.
It’s an indication of Maloney’s growing stature that he’s being talked about in a country with plenty of quality halves.
He’s a man in demand, and it’s likely most clubs will have made an inquiry to his agent, Wayne Beavis. A recent report out of Australia suggested seven clubs were interested in him but that number must surely have increased after Maloney guided the Warriors to this weekend’s grand final.
The Warriors want him to stay but Beavis said in July the club would need to come up with some “serious money” or risk losing the chirpy playmaker when his contract expires at the end of 2012.
The prospect of what the Warriors could do long-term with Maloney and Shaun Johnson has already been illustrated with their run to the grand final.
Maloney and Johnson complement each other well because they provide two points of attack and two good kicking games. Maloney is also the conductor as he barks out orders during a game and his competitiveness is contagious.
He sidesteps any talk of contracts, saying he will consider his options at the end of the season, but you get the sense he will depart. The current Warriors’ management doesn’t have a history of throwing big money at players and Maloney is still very much the boy from Orange, the agricultural and mining town 200km west of Sydney, who speaks with a heavy Australian accent.