After 11 gruelling seasons of first grade footy, champion Panthers five-eighth James Maloney will play his final game in the NRL this Sunday afternoon before he begins the next chapter of his illustrious career on the other side of the world.
The 33-year-old two-time Premiership winner will take his talents to the UK Super League next season as a member of French club Catalans.
While this Sunday’s farewell match against the Newcastle Knights is expected to be an emotional one for many rugby league supporters, Maloney doesn’t anticipate he’ll be needing a packet of Kleenex during his post-game lap of honour.
“Everyone keeps asking me but it’s not that emotional to be honest. I’m not retiring, so it doesn’t seem like it’s ending. It’s just like I’m moving on to another club, which I have done a heap of times before,” Maloney admitted.
“It just doesn’t have that feeling because for me it’s not the end. It’s just another stepping stone in the journey.”
When Maloney landed at the foot of the Mountains last season, he arrived with plenty of pressure and expectation on his shoulders. Due to his track record of multiple Grand Final appearances and NRL premierships, many Penrith fans hoped the man simply known as “Jimmy” had the Midas touch just one more time.
“I came out here looking to win a competition again and that didn’t happen, but I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” Maloney said.
“I was a little disappointed with how we bowed out last year and this year not to be playing Finals is really disappointing, but hopefully I can leave here knowing I’ve helped a lot of these young guys develop in some way.
“I think the club is in a strong position and Penrith should always be in a strong position. They are financially stable now and their junior nursery is strong. There shouldn’t be any excuse for Penrith to not be a top club.”
With Maloney vacating the famous number six jumper in the coming days, the focus will soon turn to 2020 and who will lead Penrith around the park next season. While Nathan Cleary will steer the ship, just who will be playing alongside him – Jarome Luai or Matt Burton?
“Jarome has bought his time, he’s played in a few different positions and I think he’s ready to go,” Maloney answered.
“I think Matty will come into that role where Jarome’s been this year. He’s showed pretty comfortably that first grade isn’t beyond him and no doubt, after a big pre-season, he’ll be keeping them both honest.”
When James Maloney departs Panthers Stadium for the final time on Sunday, he’ll leave knowing the impact he had, in such a short amount of time, will be remembered by Penrith fans forever.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.