Merrin welcomes Mansour return
Penrith Panthers lock Trent Merrin has welcomed the return of injured winger Josh Mansour for the upcoming clash against the Bulldogs on Sunday.
Mansour is expected to be named in Anthony Griffin's 21-man squad after missing the opening 12 rounds of the NRL Telstra Premiership with a torn ACL suffered during a routine training run for Australia in the Four Nations Tournament back in November.
Merrin was on tour with Mansour when he ruptured the knee ligament after a collision with current NSW centre Josh Dugan and has watch his rehabilitation process in the last seven months closely at the foot of the mountains.
It was 12 months ago the Lebanese international made his State of Origin debut for the Blues in Game One and Merrin believed he could still be a late contender at the backend of the series if required.
"I'm looking forward to his return, it's going to be a big bonus for the team and just with small things like getting the team on the front foot and coming out of trouble when we are deep in our half," Merrin told NRL.com.
"He's worked so hard to get back and is obviously made for Origin but we will get him right with us first before we share him around."
Merrin and former NSW prop James Tamou were both left out of Laurie Daley's Blues line-up after slow starts to the season, but the Panthers' recent form of back-to-back wins has the incumbent Australian Test lock dancing again.
"I couldn't wait to get into the sheds in the last couple of weeks and go mad in the middle," Merrin said.
"It's the best feeling ever, especially when you don't get a win for a few weeks, you really have to embrace a win when it comes around.
"I didn't even know I was being filmed [after Australia's win over New Zealand] and that it was going on social media but it's good, gets the morale in the team strong and I love a bit of a dance and the boys do too."
Merrin believes Mal Meninga's loyalty to choose him in the Australian side has helped kick-start his own personal form after a quiet start to the season.
Since being named for the Kangaroos, the 27-year-old has averaged 166 metres and made a total 11 offloads in his last three appearances – more than his total of 10 after the opening eight rounds of the Telstra Premiership.
Defensively Merrin has also reduced his missed tackle count from over three a game to just two despite playing higher minutes for the Panthers in recent weeks.
"To get that confidence going away and being around those top players in camps really gives you a boost after a tough few weeks here at home," he said.
"I took a lot out of the Australian win and now hopefully I can bring it back to club level more."
The inclusion of Mansour could force coach Griffin to make a shuffle in the backline with Matt Moylan linked to a move to the No.6 jersey with the long-term ankle injury to Bryce Cartwright.
Both utility backs Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Dylan Edwards trained in the fullback role on Monday.