By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
Dragons hooker Mitch Rein is ready to put his friendship with former teammate Trent Merrin aside when he faces Merrin and the Panthers on Saturday night.
Rein and the Dragons are looking forward to taking on Merrin for the first time since his exit at the end of last season and the hooker is expecting plenty of banter on the field this weekend.
"Mez doesn't really buy into that kind of stuff, it doesn't affect him but it will be good to come up against him," Rein told NRL.com.
"He's pretty mentally tough. I'm sure there will be a lot of talk out there though. He was a really popular guy here and still here is. But we'll be putting the friendship aside that's for sure and he'll be doing the same for the 80 minutes.
"It's going to be awesome really. In saying that he'll be a massive handful, he's hard to handle but so are a lot of their other boys meaning we can't be concentrating all our energy on to him."
One of Rein's focuses in fact remains on fine-tuning his capabilities as an 80-minute hooker, though he gave bench utility Siliva Havili a glowing appraisal for the way he's seamlessly slotted into the side.
"Siliva is a very capable player so it's good to have him there either way. He can fill in the middle and does a great job at either lock or hooker. He's very versatile so it gives us an extra element there," Rein said.
"If I'm required to stay on the field longer it's good, but if I need a breather or something happens we have him there to come on. It's definitely a bonus for us to have him there.
"I've always wanted to play 80 minutes though which I have done previously and enjoyed. It does take a lot of work and I'm still getting used to that really.
"Especially since it's earlier in the year, I'm just trying to get the fitness levels up and working on my game management but those things will come and that's what I'm hoping to improve on week to week."
Rein was particularly satisfied with last weekend's confidence-boosting win over South Sydney after his side started the season with a narrow defeat in Melbourne and a heavy loss to Cronulla.
"We have a few new faces and so those combinations have had to click. Round 1 we went close but against Cronulla the next week it was a really uncharacteristic loss for us," Rein said.
"We did a lot of things that were disappointing and completely out of character. To bounce back though has given us a lot of confidence. Those close and tough games really help build character.
"We're feeling really good ourselves now but we can't get too ahead of ourselves either. We're playing Penrith who are a definitely a capable side so we'll have to be ready to go."