Warriors playmaker James Maloney might have gone from fringe first-grader to starting half in little more than a year and just been re-signed by the club but coach Ivan Cleary still believes his young rising star is very much a work in progress.
The nuggety 24-year-old linked up with the Warriors last year, having played just four matches for the Melbourne Storm.
He was something of an unknown quantity at the time but quickly established himself at first-grade level, eventually going on to play in 24 of the club's 25 matches last year.
Last week, the Warriors informed Maloney they were exercising an option in his contract.
It will see him remain in Auckland for at least another season and would suggest the New South Welshman has a big future at the club.
But even so, Cleary is adamant the talented youngster needs to knuckle down and deliver on his potential if he wants to hang on to his starting spot in the halves.
"James came here as an unheralded player who had only played four games in the NRL but had had an extensive career in the lower grades," Cleary told Sunday News.
"He's become a regular NRL half since coming here and in that sense he's done well. I do think there's a fair way to go in terms of consistency in all aspects of the game.
"But he's got plenty going for him. He's a good football player and he's tough. There's a way to go."
The primary criticism with Maloney relates to his defensive frailties and tendency to get off side with NRL officials.
Last year he was the most penalised player in the competition and missed the most tackles after South Sydney's Chris Sandow.
Maloney concedes he's desperate to improve on his shortcomings and spent much of the pre-season focusing on how he could do just that.
But his coach, on the other hand, believes the suggestion Maloney lacks when it comes to the tackling department isn't entirely accurate.
"He's a bit of a conundrum defensively because he's quite good in many respects," Cleary said.
"He reads the play well and, physically, he can tackle. But he's still a bit sloppy in areas and that pretty much sums up his game.
"He's still coming to grips with the level of intensity of the NRL and that's not just about playing but preparation as well.
"Playing in his position there is a lot riding on a lot of things.
"He's coming along but in all aspects there's a fair way to go."
Maloney will link up with last year's main partner in crime Brett Seymour in the halves against the Storm in Melbourne tomorrow night.
It will be the first time the duo has played together since Seymour was dropped in round four after an indifferent start to the year.
"I'm looking forward to getting back out there with Buster," Maloney said.
"Obviously, we play pretty well together and we just have to make sure we run the side around the park and get everyone doing what they need to be doing.
"That ownership has to fall on us and we have to make sure that happens and also that our kicking game is on.
"I think the best thing about the way we play is that nobody really takes charge. We've both play very much in sync. I'm looking forward to this and putting a bad game from last week behind us."
As for his contract extension, Maloney says he hasn't forgotten it was the Warriors who offered him a first-grade lifeline when his opportunities in Melbourne were limited.
"It's great that I'll be here again next year because we won't have to pack up and move any time soon now," he said.
"Things are going well. We are really settled over here and enjoying it. It's just a matter of playing consistent footy and making sure that I perform the role in the team that I am there to do."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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