James Maloney has been there and done it all but the latest chapter in his Rugby League career is proving to be a French renaissance for the former NRL star.
“It’s all brand new to me,” said Maloney following a training session in his seventh week of pre-season at Catalans Dragons.
“I’ve always been up for a challenge but this is another level. A new country, a new competition with a new club, I feel like a kid again.”
Maloney has had a whirlwind introduction to life in the south of France. As the new poster-boy for the Dragons he has attended every club function and public event since his arrival on a three-year contract at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
He recently jetted to Paris with club officials to meet bankers, businessmen, the Australian ambassador and junior players at Rugby League outpost clubs in the French capital.
He told League Express: “I’d been to Paris briefly with Cronulla Sharks when we stopped off for the World Club Challenge on our way to Wigan in 2017, but it was fantastic to spend more time there last week meeting people. The place is incredible and to see such enthusiasm for the game there was really inspiring.
“It’s quite clear that the game has some work to do to re-establish itself in France. If there’s anything I can do to help raise the profile of the sport I’m only too happy to help.
“At the moment there is only one team representing France in Super League and I’d love to be able to help them develop the game here. The potential is there, it’s a bit of a minority sport at the moment and I’d love to see it become more established.”
Maloney is one of the game’s most experienced professionals, having played for five NRL clubs (Melbourne, NZ Warriors, Sydney Roosters, Cronulla and Penrith) and is a two-time Grand Final winner, State of Origin and Kangaroos international yet, at 33, he still hasn’t lost his appetite for pre-season preparations.
The Dragons have taken training sessions on the road this year to allow supporters outside Perpignan the chance to see the Dragons up close and Maloney has been consistently among the front-runners in all the physical challenges.
The seasoned Aussie is impressed with the way the Dragons are building up to 2020: “Pre-season’s pre-season, you’ve got to do a bit of hard work and that’s how it always is,” he said.
“It’s good to start feeling fit and healthy again and I think the group has progressed a long way in the past seven weeks. Plenty of work to do yet of course but I’m pretty comfortable with where we’re at if we keep progressing. They’re a really good bunch of guys, I knew a few of the Aussies beforehand and one or two who played NRL, so it’s been pretty easy to fit in.
“The one thing you can tell about good sides is their work ethic and the boys have worked pretty hard over the past two months. It doesn’t mean too much at this stage but it’s a good sign and we’re definitely on the right track.
“It’s difficult to say whether Catalans are in a better position than previous season because I don’t really have a yardstick of where this club was at this stage last year or how strong other teams in Super League are.
“But there are a lot of familiar faces lining up in the competition next year. I’ll feel pretty much at home with all the ex-NRL players and it’s a sign of the strength of Super League that such players are being attracted.
“We want to face good sides and strong opponents, that’s why we play the game. The stronger the challenge the better it is for the competition and hopefully it will encourage more supporters to come along to games.”
Maloney’s mission has been made easier by the fact that his wife and four children have settled quickly into life in France.
“The language is obviously still a challenge but we are all really enjoying the experience, the kids are settled in school and my family’s happy – life’s good,” he said.
In other news from Perpignan, Dragons centre David Mead missed the final week of 2019 pre-season training after returning to Australia following a family bereavement and hooker Michael McIlorum is continuing to recover from a hand injury caused when he was bitten by his pet dog. His fellow former Wigan Warriors player Tom Davies returned to the UK last week to have metal plates removed from an ankle injury.
Catalans have suspended training for the Christmas holidays and will resume on January 2nd.