Penrith coach Anthony Griffin has jumped to the defence of James Maloney, saying there are plenty of reasons why NSW should select the veteran playmaker for this year's State of Origin series.
The two-time premiership winner's chances of retaining his NSW jumper are under threat following comments by Blues adviser Greg Alexander that the Panthers five-eighth is struggling with his defence.
Maloney's tally 75 missed tackles so far this year is the highest in the league, with daylight a resounding second ahead of Wests Tigers forward Robbie Rochow's 51 attempts.
Griffin said Maloney's defensive issues haven't been helped by their injury crisis, which has resulted in an evolving door around the Panthers' left edge during his first year at the club.
"It hasn't been easy coming to the club, and we've had a lot of injuries," Griffin said.
"He's had a different centre and (second-rower Viliame Kikau is) doing a really good job out there, but it's his first year in first grade.
"But I don't understand the talk about him not playing Origin because of his defence. I think there's a whole lot more positives to him that'd be good for NSW to have out there."
Griffin did admit the 31-year-old Maloney had been responsible for some tries the team had conceded over the opening 10 rounds, but was impressed with Thursday's win over Wests Tigers.
Maloney missed just the one tackle for the match as the Panthers kept the visitors tryless.
"He's obviously been involved in a few tries that we've let in so far this year but as you seen tonight, we worked really hard on our defence and he's worked hard on his defence," Griffin said.
"He's doing his job from my point of view. Obviously every player's got areas they need to improve, but on the whole he's done a terrific job for us.
"All halves go through that. At some stage they get a lot of traffic run at them, they're little men. Sometimes they don't make their first-up tackles. But I wouldn't swap him for anyone."
The win also marked the successful return of gun halfback Nathan Cleary, who set up a try after missing the past seven matches with a knee injury.
Also a candidate to feature in the Blues' halves for game one on June 6, Cleary said he pulled up well after the match and was heartened by his combination with Maloney.
"It's definitely a work in progress. Halves partnerships don't just work overnight," Cleary said.
"It was a bit of a shame with the speed bump with my injury but now we're back playing some footy, hopefully we can both stay injury free and really work on our combination."
Australian Associated Press