By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
Panthers-bound Dragons lock Trent Merrin said St George Illawarra's 11-10 golden point elimination final loss to the Bulldogs on Saturday night was a hard pill to swallow but one that he's happy to end his Red V career with.
Signing a three-year deal to head to the foot of the mountains from 2016, the reality of his time in Wollongong ending hit home as Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds's field goal sailed between the uprights in the 84th minute.
"[As soon as he kicked it] I could see the fans and our players and it was very emotional but if I was going to go out [this way], that's the way I'd like to go out," Merrin said.
"I'm very passionate about the Red V. I've been here for many years since I was a kid. It was definitely emotional for me tonight and I hope that I've left on a good note."
Merrin ended his time at the Dragons with a typical 166 metre, 29 tackle performance and brought an end to what has been a topsy-turvy year for the Shellharbour junior.
With his future up in the air in the early stages of the year Merrin soon felt the full brunt of New South Wales's huge Origin III loss and a four-game suspension for a dangerous throw on Maroons lock Corey Parker.
"But that's rugby league," he said. "It's a rollercoaster sport. You never know what you're going to get.
"Once I made my decision [to leave], I've put it in on the backburner and knew I had a big job ahead to leave this club on a high.
"I hope we've done that and I hope the boys take it further next year and go well."
In a 10-month season overall for the Dragons, including the World Club Challenge match against Warrington, Merrin added he has been blown away by the transformation of the club under the guidance of coach Paul McGregor.
"It's changed immensely. From the start of the year everyone was kicking us. We were outsiders. And we shielded ourselves away from everything and built some respect back," Merrin said of the Dragons, who have not played finals football since 2012.
"We led the comp after 12 weeks and we've got teams turning around now and noticing us especially getting into the finals. It was definitely one of my goals [before leaving] to get the club back to where it deserved to be."
Merrin's sentiment was not lost on coach McGregor who said even though his team lost by a lone point they still managed to "win" in some respects.
"If you look at the journey we have had and where we have come from I couldn't be any prouder. And even though we lost we showed the right desire, attitude, commitment, resolve, courage, belief – everything you want from a football team," McGregor said.
"But to me we won. I'm talking to a different bunch of boys than I talked to 12 months ago. To go out there with no-one except us thinking we can win the game, like I said those guys have really grown and they'll continue to."
Dragons skipper Ben Creagh had a parting message for those who will continue to doubt the Red V's credentials onwards into next year.
"This loss will just drive us forward to better and bigger things. There is a lot of young talent in our team and they're going to get better with more games under their belt," he said.
"I'm telling you right now the future looks bright at the Dragons and I'm proud to be involved with this club."