By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
After completing his four match suspension, St George Illawarra's Panthers-bound lock Trent Merrin isn't looking towards the end of his career in the Red V jumper just yet, rather he's focusing on getting the club to their first finals series in four seasons.
Leaving a huge void in the Dragons team since his dangerous throw on Corey Parker in Origin III, Merrin is looking to bounce back the best way possible in this weekend's clash with the Warriors – his first game for St George Illawarra since Round 16.
While missing club football is bad enough Merrin has also had to overcome New South Wales's record loss in Game Three in his own time. Unlike his Blues teammates – who have been able to play in the NRL since – Merrin has had to hit the training paddock instead.
"It's been a tough few weeks but it's come around now and I've done everything I possibly could the past month to put myself in a good position for this weekend," Merrin said.
"It's just been a matter of me putting in hard efforts on the training paddock to keep my mind going, to stay busy and to being a part of the team as much I can.
"[The Origin loss] is something which plays over in your head every now and again but yeah I've just had to keep training and stay busy.
"The main picture for me now is to make the top eight and getting amongst that again."
Of his return, Merrin is nervous to run out against the Warriors despite the 25-year-old being able to find the positives in his time away from playing.
"You can't train for match fitness. It's something I'm nervous about but I think once you're out on the field, the emotion takes over being amongst the boys and you want to do the best you can," Merrin said.
"It's been great though to not have to get up for games and to come into collision and to get bashed every weekend. You don't often get a chance to do a mini pre-season block at the back end of the season so that's beneficial I suppose."
Meanwhile, Merrin believes the Dragons' 10 days out of NSW will only help their cause of playing past the first week of September.
Heading to Auckland on Wednesday to prepare for their Warriors clash, the Dragons will bypass Wollongong to instead head further north to prepare for their Round 23 clash with the Broncos on Friday week.
Winning for the first game in eight games against Newcastle last round, Merrin said the extra time together will help the club grow stronger.
"I think it'll be great to get some bonding time with each other. We've partaken in a tough run the past few weeks and it is going to be great to bounce off a win to come into a long camp," Merrin said.
"It's getting to the last few games of the season and we're definitely putting our hand up for the semis so it'll be great to get that extra time together.
"That, and spend some quality training sessions together in different parts and get away from the usual routine. It's definitely going to be beneficial for the team."