“It’s hard to defend when teams do that.
“And come finals time, there are less set-starts because there are less penalties, so that ability for a side to score points all over the park becomes a big advantage.”
Maloney spent two seasons at the Panthers before leaving at the end of last year to join France-based Super League club Catalans Dragons.
He left the NRL knowing the Panthers had the players to go all the way, but he wasn’t sure if title success would come as soon as this year.
“That first year I was there we had a decent year, but the second one was frustrating because I knew how much potential was there, we just couldn’t put it all together,” he said.
“With the coaching staff there, they always had the right coaches and players to do it.
I’m cheering the Panthers … I’ll always have a soft spot for the Roosters but they’ve won plenty already.
“The really good thing about all those kids is there are no egos. They all work hard and listen and want to learn and take everything on board.
“Hopefully they nail it again on Friday night against the Roosters.
“I’ll tune in for that game. I’m cheering the Panthers. They’ve done an awesome job all year and it will be good to see them get the rewards. I’ll always have a soft spot for the Roosters but they’ve won plenty already.”
Maloney has also enjoyed seeing Cleary step up and steer the Panthers around the field.
The representative five-eighth not only allowed Cleary time to develop in the top grade, but also gave Jarome Luai an extra 12 months to fine-tune his game. Luai’s form the past month has been on a par with Cleary, if not better.
Cleary said of playing alongside Maloney for his club and state: “He’s someone who has been so successful and we were lucky to have him at this club.
“He showed what was needed to be a top-tier player, he definitely helped me out and helped Jarome out. Some of his characteristics rubbed off on some of the boys.
“Going into big games, I’ve never seen someone not get nervous like him. He was so blase about everything but he’d always perform in those big games. It’s something I definitely admired about him. So did everyone else.”
Maloney won premierships with the Roosters and Sharks before getting Penrith to the semi-finals in 2018.
The larrikin No.6 highlighted the importance of winning in week one of the finals and enjoying the break in week two. It will prove even more vital this year because of COVID-19 and 18-straight weeks of football.
“Obviously the Roosters are so seasoned and they’ve been there and done it, but I have no doubt Penrith can also do it because of that ability, confidence and enthusiasm, which will carry them a long way,” Maloney said.
“The biggest key in the finals is winning in week one and getting that second week off. If you don’t, you have to get up for four big games in a row.”
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Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.