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Stat Attack: Merrin's minutes suffer alarming drop-off

Trent Merrin is adamant he still has the ability to play long minutes and act as the Panthers forward leader despite having his game time almost cut dramatically over the course of 2018.

Merrin arrived at Penrith as a marquee representative player two years ago with his 66 minutes a match in 2016 reflecting that influence – as did his 56 offloads for the season and average of 155 metres and 34 tackles a game.

Over the past five weeks though Merrin has cracked the 40-minute mark just once, with his season average of 44 minutes a game the lowest since he became a regular starter with the Dragons in 2011.

While he described his public benching by Anthony Griffin against Brisbane a month ago as a "kick in the arse", the 13-time NSW Origin rep has still seen only 38 minutes in each game since Cameron Ciraldo took charge of the club.

Merrin returns to the starting line-up for this Friday's critical trip to New Zealand as Ciraldo shakes up the side that went down to Newcastle, and insists that while he can still churn out big minutes, he has no issue with his role.

"It's the job that I have to do for the team," Merrin said of his dwindling game time.

"I'd love to be out there as long as I possibly can but the talent we have in this team, the individual talent we have here, it's hard to take minutes away from those sort of players too. I think across the board we've just got to even it out and give everyone a run.

"I've still got full belief in my ability to play the style of footy I know I'm capable of playing. Like I said it's the team that we have here and each individual has a lot to offer in that squad.

"You've got to be selfless and spread it out amongst the team. You get individuals who prosper with that -  the likes of [Viliame] Kikau and [James] Fisher-Harris - I think everyone's got to be selfless in the squad and give everyone a go on the field."

As one of Penrith's most senior men, Merrin conceded the club's coaching upheaval had played its part in their worrying form of late, which culminated in a demoralising loss to Newcastle after late escapes against also-rans Gold Coast, Canberra and Manly.

Executive GM Phil Gould moved Griffin on when in his eyes it became clear the Panthers couldn't win a premiership under his coaching, despite working their way to top spot midway through the year and being finals-bound for a third straight season.

Merrin admitted Gould's assessment was tough to cop, but said external criticism of the club had galvanised them in recent times.

"It's definitely not something you want to hear," Merrin said of Gould's comments.

Panthers aim for top four without Maloney

"But we know what we're capable of doing. We're obviously out to win the premiership, and that's all we're focusing on.  

"As much as people say [the coaching change] doesn't distract you, it does. It's a lot of outside noise but nothing changes within the facility.

"Everything like that, as much you try and push it away it's still going to be around the footy. But we've done a great job to come together as a group and move forward with it.

"We're known for turning things around, especially when everything's against us we vibe off that. We know what standard we're capable of playing at, that's just what we've got to get back to doing, having that confidence and belief that we can play that style of footy."

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