Maloney faces former mentor Bellamy
Photo Source: AAP
James Maloney doesn't have a premiership ring to show for his contribution to Melbourne's 2009 NRL grand final win, however that experience under Craig Bellamy proved to be the making of him as a footballer.
Seven seasons after Melbourne coach Bellamy handed Maloney his first-grade debut, they will cross paths in Sunday's NRL decider.
Maloney's arrival at the Storm proved a turning point in his career - after years of battling in reserve grade, he went on to become one of the most-successful halves in the competition.
After guiding the Warriors to their first grand final, winning the 2013 premiership with the Sydney Roosters and earning NSW State of Origin selection, his arrival in the Shire coincided with Cronulla's charge to within one game of their first premiership.
While it all might seem like a lifetime ago for the 30-year-old playmaker, he calls his time under Bellamy a formative time in his career.
"I learnt a lot about footy down there," Maloney says.
"That was a big part of me going down there. I remember talking to my old boy and he said 'there's not many players who go down to Melbourne and come out worse off'."
Maloney went to Melbourne in search of an opportunity and had his first taste of first grade at 23.
At the time, the Storm - coming off their 2008 grand final loss to Manly - didn't have an established five-eighth and Cameron Smith and Greg Inglis spent the first month-and-a-half of the season sharing the No.6 duties before Bellamy decided to blood a cheeky kid from the NSW central coast.
However Maloney's hopes of playing out the 2009 season in top grade were scuppered when Brett Finch's messy exit from Parramatta delivered him to the Storm.
Maloney managed just four first-grade games that year but the experience of being 19th man in the Storm's grand final win over the Eels - a title Melbourne were later stripped of for salary-cap breaches - gave him invaluable insight into what went into preparing for the biggest game of the year.
That year, Maloney partnered Cooper Cronk in the Storm halves and, while they will be on different sides of the field on Sunday, the Melbourne No.7 praised the Cronulla five-eighth as having the Midas touch.
"James must bring something special to a football team because each team he's been a part of, he's made a grand final," Cronk said.