St George Illawarra forward Trent Merrin says that if he wracked his brain trying to analyse where he stood in the State of Origin landscape he would end up going crazy.
Merrin is among a group of forwards fighting over a couple of positions in the NSW team for Origin I against Queensland at ANZ Stadium on June 5. The team will be named on Sunday.
James Tamou is regarded as a certain starter at prop, and if Paul Gallen is chosen at lock, from where he would still play as one of the “middle three”, that leaves just the other starting prop and another impact forward on the bench to be decided.
Merrin, 23, has played four Origin games, all off the interchange bench. He was a part of Origins I and II in 2011 and Origins I and II again last year.
The Dragons have recently been naming Merrin at lock, from where he plays as one of their middle three, and he has recorded some very impressive match statistics this season.
Merrin has played an average of 62.7 minutes per game, including the full 80 minutes twice, and run for more than 100 metres in eight of his 10 matches. He also has 27 offloads.
But with a number of players – including Penrith’s Tim Grant, Parramatta’s Tim Mannah, Cronulla’s Andrew Fifita and Newcastle’s Willie Mason – competing for limited spots he can see it’s going to be a close call.
“Yeah, that’s one of the things I’ve learned in the last few years,” Merrin replied, when asked if thinking too much about his Origin chances could become counter-productive. “All I can control is my job and what I can do for the team.
“If I start buying into everything else I’ll go away from what I know, so the best thing I can do is focus on my game and my team, and do the best I can.
“If you think about Origin too much you can drive yourself mad, so I try my best not to think about it. I know I’ve got a job to do for the Dragons and that’s what I’m concentrating on at the moment.
“Origin’s always in the back of the mind, but I think that if I just keep playing the way I play for the Dragons it’ll be my best chance of getting into the squad.”
The Dragons, who were last-start, 32-12 winners over Parramatta, play a rejuvenated Penrith at WIN Jubilee Oval on Saturday.
The Panthers, after winning their first game of the season against Canberra and then losing five in a row, have improved dramatically to win three of their past four.
Underlining their rise is the fact that in the last two rounds they have beaten premiers Melbourne 12-10 and recorded the biggest win by any team this season in thrashing the Warriors 62-6.
Merrin said that, apart from team video sessions, he didn’t watch a lot of other games. But he is well aware from the publicity the Panthers have had that they are hot at the moment.
“I expect them to come out firing on the weekend,” Merrin said. “We have to watch their danger players, but other than that we’ve got to focus on what’s working well for us.
“Last weekend against the Eels, everything came together that we’d been working on. Our defence was top-notch, and our attention to detail as well.
“We shut down their main players and it made for a great win.”
Merrin said he was looking forward to developing an on-field understanding with fullback Josh Dugan, who made his debut for the Dragons against the Eels.
Dugan is proven as a dangerous support player down the centre of the field, and Merrin and fellow Dragons forward Dan Hunt know how to get the ball away in tackles.
“It’s something that I’ve been looking for,” Merrin said. “To get a player like Josh, who sniffs around the middle as well as going out the back... it’s great for us middle boys – especially when you can get an arm free and you know you’ve got a player like that coming off you.
“It was great to have Josh out there against the Eels. He showed everyone what he’s capable of doing. We’re lucky to have him at the club, but in saying that it was a great team effort against the Eels.
“Everyone bought into what we wanted to achieve, and there wouldn’t have been a player out there for us who was less than an eight out of 10.”