Penrith captain James Maloney has hit back at former teammate Paul Gallen, saying any distractions he had last year had no bearing on his form in his final season at Cronulla.
Ahead of their NRL semi-final on Friday, Gallen claimed Maloney's performances last year had dropped from their maiden premiership campaign in 2016.
And while Maloney admitted being distracted last season, it had no impact on his football.
"There probably were some distractions, some things that went on. But who cares? I don't think it distracted my footy too much," Maloney told AAP.
"Your form varies throughout the year. I didn't think I had a terrible season last year by any means. There were games I could've played better.
"But we ended up in a good situation. We played finals, we just didn't get the job done."
Gallen suggested Maloney had been burdened by his role in collective bargaining agreement negotiations that didn't get resolved until the start of last summer.
He also pointed to ongoing speculation over Maloney's unhappiness with his deal at the time.
"You could just tell he was distracted all year. Whether it be his contract situation or he was doing a lot of work with the CBA negotiations," Gallen said.
"That took away from football a little bit. You don't need me to tell you that.
"I think the proof was in the performances."
Maloney said they were just excuses.
"I don't think that had anything to do with it. You can't try and make excuses. If he wasn't happy with the way I played, then that's how it was," he said.
Gallen hailed Maloney's impact in his first season with Penrith, where he has led the club into the finals despite the coaching dramas that led to the sacking of Anthony Griffin last month.
And while the NSW State of Origin playmaker still leads the league in missed tackles with 154 - St George Illawarra's Ben Hunt is second with 112 - Gallen denied Maloney would be a target.
"He doesn't care if he gives penalties away, we know that. He'll just hit someone in the head and say, 'Don't come here again'," Gallen said.
"He says it to us all the time. That's what he used to say when he played here. We're not going to be too concerned about that."
Australian Associated Press