Fittler’s plea to Panthers’ stand-in coach
PENRITH great Brad Fittler has urged Panthers caretaker coach Cameron Ciraldo to rest wounded playmaker James Maloney or risk throwing away their NRL premiership chance.
The NSW State of Origin five-eighth was clearly hampered during the Panthers' get-out-of-jail win over the Gold Coast on Saturday.
Maloney played out the match but suffered a worrying knee injury just before halftime.
As he was against Canberra the week prior, he had a mixed performance before delivering a matchwinning play.
He produced a poor missed tackle on Anthony Don, who raced 80 metres, before throwing an intercept pass for the Titans winger's second-half try.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, his long ball to Viliame Kikau was instrumental in Dean Whare's try, which sent the match into golden point.
But Maloney has continued to be hampered by a toe injury since State of Origin and a broken thumb.
Fittler, who coached Maloney during the Blues' Origin series triumph this year, said the veteran needed a break with the finals looming and Penrith had the players to fill in.
"You look through those injuries, he's 85kg max," Fittler said.
"The job he's got to do, he's looking sore and I think if they don't give him a rest, they're taking any chance away of going deep into the semi-finals.
"You have Tyrone May sitting there, Jarome Luai is playing reserve grade."
Maloney's injury is one of several which looks set to prove influential three weeks out from the finals.
Fading early season frontrunners St George Illawarra, who now sit one spot below Penrith in fifth, are sweating on the availability of playmaker Gareth Widdop, after he suffered a dislocated shoulder in Saturday's embarrassing 40-4 belting at the hands of lowly-ranked Parramatta.
"I fear for the Dragons in regards to Gareth Widdop," said Parramatta legend Peter Sterling.
"If he's out, on top of maybe Paul Vaughan (ankle) not being back for a while as well, they're two really significant influential players."