Much like next Wednesday’s decider at ANZ Stadium represents a rare opportunity for the Blues, so it does too for New South Wales interchange forward Trent Merrin.
A member of the NSW side for the past two years, he played the opening two games in both 2011 and 2012 only to be dropped for the decider both times. But this year comes his chance for redemption, with Merrin expected to play a key role when the Blues host a third and deciding game for the first time since 2008.
“It’s my first ‘third game’ so it’s pretty exciting,” Merrin told NRL.com as the Blues prepared to head into camp in Coogee on Monday.
“It hurt not being there the past few years. You go out there for the first two games and you’re around all the boys and you see how much it means to everyone. To sit back and just watch them do it all in Game Three, it takes its toll. But all you can do is go away and work hard and put yourself back in a position where you can come back.
“That’s what I’ve done. I moved on from it and tried my hardest to get there again so now that I’m there I’m just going to put my body on the line for the boys and hopefully we can take it out.”
Merrin said he understood the reasons NSW selector and former coach Ricky Stuart had dropped him but insisted he had come a long way since those rookie days.
“At the time… I don’t think I was up to it yet,” he said. “I was still young and learning the game a bit. I’m not too sure. I’m not the staff and I don’t pick the team but I think they had their own reasons why.
“But I’ve matured a lot more to the game now. It’s my fifth year of NRL so I’ve become accustomed to it all. It’s been going good.”
Merrin won’t be taking a backwards step this time either – even if the threat of further on-field punishment from match officials lingers over his head.
Merrin was one of four players sent to the sin-bin in Game Two under the NRL’s new no-tolerance edict towards fighting after launching an array of punches at Queensland winger Brent Tate but said he couldn’t promise tempers won’t flare again.
“We’ll just take it as it comes and if anything happens, it happens,” he said. “It’s a game of footy and I don’t think anyone plans for that to happen when they run out onto the field. I didn’t think too much about what was going on (in Game Two). I was blind to what was going on out on the field. You can only do what’s in front you so as I said, I’ll just take it as it comes.”
Key for the Blues will be getting off to a fast start. In the series opener, NSW shot out to an early 14-0 lead and proved too strong in the second half as Queensland tried to claw their way back but the Maroons returned the favour with a brutal opening half in the return game at Suncorp.
Merrin said the Blues couldn’t afford to let the visitors skip out to a lead in the decider.
“We need to get out there and get stuck into them straight away to really set the platform for the rest of the game,” he said. “We need to buy in to what worked for us in Game One, stick to it and aim up. If we can execute that well, we should be sweet.”
NSW will have to play the waiting game this week to assess the fitness of their three most experienced players – Paul Gallen, Jarryd Hayne and Greg Bird – with all three battling injury and racing the clock to be fit for the decider.
But Merrin said the uncertainty wouldn’t serve as a distraction with the Blues only concerned with ending Queensland’s seven-year dominance of State of Origin.
“Being there for the last three years and trying to execute every year and not fulfilling that, you dwell on it with how they carry on about their seven years and all that rubbish,” he said.
“We’re just over it all. I think that goes for the whole team – we want to do it for each other."