Maloney backs Penrith for NRL finals push

Laine Clark
James Maloney is bullish about Penrith advancing to the NRL finals as he returns from suspension

Replacing surprise packet Matt Burton will be tough enough, according to returning Penrith playmaker James Maloney.

But the former NSW pivot reckons the Panthers pack faces the biggest challenge ahead of their crunch NRL clash against finals rivals Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.

Maloney said Burton was a difficult act to follow after watching the youngster shine in Penrith's surprise last NRL round win over Cronulla.

Maloney admitted he was in awe of Burton after presenting him his maiden first grade jersey ahead of the Sharks clash, before running out to the ground to be the first to congratulate the 19-year old after the shock 26-20 win last Friday.

While Maloney will slot straight into the halves for Burton against the eighth-placed Broncos after a week ban for a tripping charge, he believed their forward pack were the key to keeping the Panthers' finals hopes alive as they clung to seventh spot on the ladder.

"There are definitely teams who have pulled them (Broncos) apart over the course of the season - they are definitely not unbeatable," Maloney told Sky Sports Radio.

"It's not so much their shape or structure, it's more their individuals and brilliance that you have to look out for.

"They have a bit of second phase football. Some of those forwards who produce offloads quite regularly and bring other blokes into the game.

"They play their best when the game is really fast. It will be a big challenge for our middles."

Still, Maloney has backed his Panthers to be in the finals mix.

"Four games to go ... if we win three we will be there," he said.

"We are playing the Broncos who are a point behind us so it becomes a pretty important game to get a victory clear of them.

"If we play our style of football we will get the right result.

"We need to put in a good performance. We did it for seven weeks then we probably had a couple of weeks where we missed that mark so the challenge is to do it again."