TRENT Merrin has no doubt why some of the stars of round 17 were players released by State of Origin camps.
“To prove a bit of a point,” the NSW squad member, a strong performer in the hoodoo- perpetuating 22-18 loss to Canberra last night, tells NRL.com.
“...and to let some frustration out, I’d say.”
South Sydney’s Dave Taylor, North Queensland’s Matt Bowen and Merrin all found themselves leaving Origin camp, like contestants voted off a reality show, less than a week before the biggest show in town.
It wasn’t just that they responded – that much could have been safely expected of our elite – but also that the standard of football at the weekend belied the absence of 34 of the best players in the country as well as a whole game on Friday and two on Saturday.
Friday night’s 26-12 win by Cronulla over Brisbane had as many thrills and spills as a WWE bout while Saturday’s 20-12 victory by Newcastle over Parramatta featured some of the most cohesive attacking raids either side has mustered this year.
Maybe it’s not the missing players that creates the lull in intensity and interest around Origin time – it’s the fatigue of those who are left. Once a bye or two kick-in, the spectacle at club level actually returns to the level it was at, even with the key players still missing.
Certainly North Queensland missed Johnathan Thurston when they trailed 16-0 after 14 minutes to the Warriors on Sunday. That placed more pressure on Bowen to lift his side and despite spending most of his career as a strike man rather than a creator, that’s exactly what he did.
He threw assists, booted conversions and pulled off a try saving tackle on opposite Kevin Locke but it was not enough to avert a 35-18 defeat – something which he quite unreasonably blamed himself for.
“We defended four, five sets in a row and on the fifth set, obviously, Friendy (Nathan Friend) ran through me and scored under the posts,” said Bowen. “You’ve just got to make the tackle, mate.”
According to Merrin, rugby league players – at their core – just want to test themselves. Being in Origin camp only intensifies the desire and in the case of him, Bowen and Taylor, we saw the results at the weekend.
Motioning to the Dragons dressing room, he said: “The boys in there have helped me out to get me in a Blues jersey so I knew every time I come back to them, I have to do a job.
“It’s a family ...
“Rugby league, you just try and test yourself. In all sports, you want to try and be the best player you can be.
“To get released from such a high like that (Origin) – you want to test yourself and see if you are up to it.
“That’s why those players go out at the weekend and put in 100 per cent – not to prove to other people but to prove to themselves that they can do it.”
Taylor, released in the wake of unspecified personal issues, certainly took out his frustration on Penrith in a 38-12 belting on Sunday.
Bowen, Taylor and Merrin may have been on edge after checking out of their plush hotels and returning to familiar surrounds.
But tomorrow night they’ll be like the rest of us – just on the edge of their seats.
Get State of Origin news, live scores, stats, match radio and video highlights for the series decider on your mobile. Download the FREE updated 2012 Official NRL app now.