After half a century of heartbreak, missed opportunities and misfortune the Cronulla Sharks finally won the NRL premiership, securing the title with a gutsy 14-12 win over Melbourne at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.
With it came the traditional feel-good, tear-jerking and injury-defying stories - Luke Lewis won the Clive Churchill medal, Andrew Fifita scored the game-winning try, Michael Ennis retired as a premiership-winner, Jack Bird played with an all but broken elbow and Paul Gallen put 16 years of misery behind him.
But in the wake of the drought-breaking victory the contribution of one man in Sunday’s grand final has somewhat fallen by the wayside – Orange-born five-eighth James Maloney.
Arguably the best buy in the club’s half-century of existence, Maloney joined the Sharks from the Roosters in 2016 and proceeded to produce his best season at NRL level yet.
That form continued in Sunday’s grand final.
Maloney ran for 87 metres from six runs, busted one tackle, made one line-break and accounted for a huge hunk of the Sharks’ total 545 kick metres, from nine kicks in play. He slotted both conversion attempts he had and slotted a crucial penalty goal too.
He also made 22 tackles, which included a handful of massive shots after leading the Sharks’ kick-chase.
Halfback Chad Townsend copped a brutal high shot early and went missing a little bit as a result, forcing Maloney to play an all but lone playmaker role for the opening two thirds of the game too.
In short, on another night without Lewis or Fifita on the field, it was a performance which could easily have netted Maloney the Clive Churchill medal.
“It’s special,” Maloney said during the Sharks’ victory lap.
“A few guys in this team who have had some stellar careers, [Ennis is] going out on this. it’s a fitting tribute and a bloke like [Gallen] who’s done everything in the game, to help him get this is awesome.
“[The shire’s] a special spot. [The club] is good, as soon as I got down there they were welcoming right from the start.
“I knew the success was going [to come], I knew the blokes [the Sharks] had. We’ve worked really hard since November and they don’t come easy, I’m stoked to get it.”
During a half-time interview with Brad Fittler with his side 8-0 in front, Maloney made the comment “it’s ours to lose”. After the game he said he was never too worried about the result from there, even after Melbourne went 12-8 in front midway through the second half.
“When they went in front … we said this is where we make it, our boys turned up as they have all year and we got the job done.”