James Maloney ruled out of Penrith, Knights clash

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James Maloney ruled out of Penrith, Knights clash TweetFacebookTHE Knights have been left with mixed emotions after Penrith playmaker James Maloney was ruled out of Saturday’s clash at Panthers Stadium.
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Maloney, the NSW and Kangaroos five-eighth, suffereda grade-two medial-ligament tear during Saturday’s comeback win over the Gold Coast.

The Panthers said he had been sidelined indefinitely but would not be back for the final three regular rounds of the premiership.

That news will come as some relief to Newcastle, given Maloney’s remarkable record against them.

In 15 games against the Knights for the Warriors, Roosters, Sharks and Panthers, Maloney has racked up 13wins.

Among current players, only South Sydney champion Greg Inglis (13 wins from 14 games) has a better success rate against Newcastle.

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But if Maloney has been a constant thorn in the side of the Knights, he was also potentially a weak link they were planning to exploit.

According to official NRL statistics, in 19 games this season, the lightweightfive-eighth has missed significantly more tackles than any other player in the competition –144 in total, compared to the 236 he has successfully effected.

That means he has missed almost 38 per cent of the tackles he has attempted, or more than seven per game on average.

The next-worst offender in the NRL, Dragons halfback Ben Hunt, has missed only 94 tackles this year –50 fewer than Maloney.

Maloney is understood to have been playing hurt since the State of Origin series, struggling with a broken thumb and aback injury.

Even though he played out last week’s game against Gold Coast, helping conjure up a last-gasp victory, the 32-year-old was unable to back up against the Knights, saving him from a likely showdown with in-form Newcastle back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon, who has scored nine tries this season.

Before news broke that Maloney had been ruled out, Fitzgibbon confirmed his intention was to “runhard and direct and makehim [Maloney] feel the full brunt of the bigger bodies”.

In the absence of Maloney, Penrith are not lacking in replacement options.

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Rookies Tyrone MayandJarome Luai have both impressed this season, and NSW Origin utility Tyrone Peachey could also handle the role.

Fitzgibbon said he was looking forward to his head-to-head clash with towering Penrith back-rower Villiame Kikau.

“He’s one of the most damaging ball-runners in the game,” Fitzgibbon said.

“He’s a big young lad and runs the ball pretty hard.

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“Last time we played them [when Penrith won 29-18 in round 10], I think my edge did a pretty good job up against Kikau and Maloney, so hopefully we can go in this week and do a job.”

The Knights have struggled against the Panthers in recent seasons, losing five successive games and seven of their past eight clashes.

Newcastle are dead and buried in the finals race but Fitzgibbon dismissed any suggestion the Panthers had more to play for.

“We want to finish the season off strongly,” Fitzgibbon said.

“We want to be winning games wherever we sit on the table. That’s at the forefront of our minds.

“There’sno question that they [Penrith] will want to win more because of the top four or whatever.

“Our mentality is we want to win every game and that’s how we’re going into this one.”

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