By Tony Webeck (NRL.com)
The scars have not quite healed completely for Trent Merrin to say that being dropped for two successive State of Origin deciders was the best thing that could have happened to him.
Heading into Game Three deciders in both 2011 and 2012, New South Wales coach Ricky Stuart discarded Merrin from his squad, first in favour of Keith Galloway and then Tony Williams on the Blues bench 12 months later.
In 2012 Merrin was initially included in an extended NSW squad for Game Three before being released to play for the Dragons on the Friday but has figured in every game for the Blues since and was a key factor in their long-awaited Series win last year.
On Friday night he will make his Test debut for the Kangaroos against New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium and admitted that the heavy bumps along his representative road has made this occasion all the more special.
"They were most definitely the biggest test of myself and my career so far," Merrin said of his Origin demotions. "They were both tough times in my career but for me to bounce back and look at all the positives that were going on in my life and touching on the constructive criticism from coaches and players as well, it's taught me a lot to pick myself back up and do better.
"Battling the demons in my head, not making it, getting cut or due to injury [have been the biggest challenges]. To overcome those sorts of things instead of just walking away and letting it get on top of me. Building myself back up and getting that confidence and changing a few things that I felt I needed to change in my game and outside of my game as well.
"If you let things get on top of you they can dead-set do a real big job on you. It's been a great learning curve for myself personally and to be able to step back and take a good look at the way things are going and what you need to work on. Listening to the people that really care for you and know what's best for you in your life, it's definitely put me in the best position to put his jersey on."
Bound for the Panthers in 2016, Merrin was forced to start the 2015 season from the bench but set about proving to St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor that he was worthy of a place in the starting team.
Defying the distractions that contract negotiations can have on younger players in particular, Merrin has averaged 175 metres and 34 tackles per game through eight rounds to dispel any possible notion that the departing lock forward would no longer give his best for the Red V.
"I think the best thing about myself is that I knew what I needed to do," said the 25-year-old. "There was no pressure at all. I knew there were a lot of things going on on the outside in terms of contracts but every year I know my job and what I have to do to put myself in the best position.
"If it was contract time or it wasn't I was always going to do the best I possibly could for the Dragons and for myself.
"It was a bit tough there at some stages but that's why I wanted to get it sorted before the season started."
All that will drift back well into the distance on Friday night however when he fulfils a boyhood dream and dons the green and gold for the first time.
In nine previous visits to Suncorp Stadium with both the Dragons and NSW Merrin has been victorious on just one occasion but is secure in the knowledge that his team this time will have the lion's share of support, including his parents, Mark and Karen, and partner Sally Fitzgibbons.
"My parents and my partner know how hard I've worked and the setbacks that you overcome to get in this position and most definitely my family and my partner and my close friends," Merrin said of the support network that helped him reach the game's highest honour.
"It's been a long time coming. I know for myself how hard I've worked and had to sacrifice a lot to be able to put myself in this position. I know it's going to be a big test for me on Friday night but I'm really looking forward to it."