LAYING DOWN GAUNTLET: James Maloney in action against Fiji.
LAYING DOWN GAUNTLET: James Maloney in action against Fiji. Grant Trouville

Maloney puts hand up for Kangaroos' No.6 jersey

JAMES Maloney has laid down the challenge to his rivals by declaring he wants the vacant Australian No. 6 jersey.

The race to partner Cooper Cronk in the halves looms as the major selection headache for Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga. Michael Morgan is the frontrunner after a stellar back half of the season while Cameron Munster showed in his Origin debut that he can standout at the elite level.

With Morgan rested on Saturday night, it was left to Munster and Maloney to steer the team around. Munster struggled while Maloney was among the Kangaroos' best.

Maloney, who played in two Tests for Australia last year, said he wanted to start alongside Cronk.

"We all want that jersey," Maloney said. "All we can do is play our best footy and make the decision as hard as possible for Mal (Meninga).

"(Mal) has said it publicly that (the jersey is anyone's). We know that. There are a few boys there that can play the spot. You never know what's going to happen over six weeks. A lot can change.

"I know what it's all about. I've played with these boys and know the structures. Hopefully I can fall into it and fingers crossed I get some game time through the world cup and hopefully in some of the big ones.

Meninga handed Maloney the responsibility of wearing the No. 7 jersey and being vice-captain to Boyd Cordner during their hitout against Fiji and PNG. Meninga praised the Cronulla pivot's performance.

"We asked Jimmy to be more dominant," Meninga said. "He handled it very well.

"Everything he did was quality. He is a quality goal-kicker as well."

Maloney said he enjoyed the added pressure.

"It was a different role to what I usually do but I've done it before," Maloney said. "I just want to play as well as I can every time I get the opportunity and put my best foot forward for the World Cup.

"I was reasonably happy."

Despite a strong Origin performance, Maloney was not guaranteed a spot in Australia's World Cup squad. Cronulla's meek finals exit contributed to his potential demotion.

"I would've bee disappointed if I missed out," Maloney said. "I thought I had a decent Origin series. We fell out a little bit early but I thought I was playing good enough footy