Co-leading NRL tryscorer in 2011 Nathan Merritt is convinced South Sydney’s Melbourne connection will place the Rabbitohs in good stead to launch a serious premiership campaign in 2012.
Merritt believes the arrival of former Storm assistant mentor Michael Maguire as head coach at Redfern, along with a playing roster that boasts key former Melbourne stars including Greg Inglis and Michael Crocker, has the potential to have Bunnies’ fans hopping for joy.
“Yeah Greg is fitting in pretty well with the team… it is going to be better for him this year, he has got a coach now [Maguire] that coached him down in Melbourne – we have a few ex-Melbourne boys now in the team,” Merritt enthused.
“So as soon as he gets back from the (Four) Nations I think he is going to fit in pretty well. You know, we’re looking for a big season with Greggie.”
First on the agenda for Merritt though is the likelihood of a third consecutive cap for the Indigenous All Stars, an occasion the Redfern local rates the equal of anything he’s achieved in the game.
“It is probably up there with the highlight of my career, getting in the game with the Indigenous team,” he told NRL.com. “The boys are all great… we all enjoy each other’s company and you want to get out there and play against the NRL All Stars.”
Merritt says the build-up to the annual clash is hugely rewarding for the players.
“Just going out and seeing the young kids and seeing the smiles on their faces and getting up there and getting the opportunity to give back to the community…” Merritt continued.
“It’s always great for us to go back to schools and do work and interact with the kids… it’s always fun to see the smiles on their faces.”
Merritt, who grew up idolising fellow Aboriginal rugby league stars Steve Renouf and Anthony Mundine, says he is driven by the opportunity to give back to his community.
“I grew up around this area so I am a local junior with ties in the local community,” he said. “I am a local boy… I always give back to the community boys out there helping out the kids.
“I did a Teacher's Aide course back at the school where I grew up, so it’s always great to go back to the old school and help out with the young kids and give back.”
Merritt said he doesn’t feel any pressure to repeat his try-scoring heroics of 2011 and is confident that with the right preparation, results will flow again.
“We have a good side here [at Souths], we are training pretty hard and if you get all the training done and get ourselves fit, we’ve got no pressure whatsoever,” he said.
“The opportunity to play fullback gave me the chance to roam around on the field, pop up wherever I wanted to and attack on either side of the field,” he said of his flurry of four-pointers over the closing rounds of 2011.
“We have got a lot of players that can offload the ball and make half-breaks so it is just a matter of being instinctive and looking to where the gaps are going to appear.”
Merritt described playing for the Indigenous All Stars as a “massive honour”.
“You are playing with all the best Indigenous players in the NRL and you are playing for your people all across Australia so it’s a great privilege to be out there,” he said.
“The first year… the highlight was just getting it together and getting the game on, being a part of it and actually coming away with a win.
“It’s a great concept… hopefully the fans vote me in! It would be great to see us all running around. It will be a special occasion and we’ll enjoy going out there and doing battle.”
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