After playing his 250th top-grade match against the Warriors last Sunday, Trent Merrin approached St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin and told him to give his pay and position to a younger player because he could no longer keep up with the speed of the game.
It was a selfless act by a player whose career highlight remains making his NRL debut for the Dragons in 2009 before going on to win a premiership with the club the following season and representing NSW in 13 Origins and Australia in seven Tests.
Describing himself as a “chubby kid from St Peters”, Merrin was once touted as a NSW captain but he said the enthusiasm and ambition that helped him achieve everything in the game was slipping away as he struggled to keep pace under the new NRL rules introduced this season.
“I feel that the game is drifting away from myself so I’ll call it before it calls me,” Merrin said.
“With the way that Hook has got the team going and the feeling among the playing group that we have, I feel that I would be doing more damage than good so my salary and my position can go to one of the young guys coming through and give them that opportunity.”
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Merrin had been considering his future since returning to Wollongong from Leeds last year but off-season shoulder surgery and the opportunity to work with Griffin, who had coached him for three years at Penrith, convinced the 31-year-old forward to continue playing.
However, last Sunday’s 20-14 loss to the Warriors convinced the Shellharbour Sharks junior that it was time to hang up the boots and he approached Griffin on Monday.
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“I didn’t want to accept it off him on Monday,” Griffin said. “I wanted him to go away and think about a few things that we spoke about and so he has come back this morning [Wednesday] and confirmed the feelings he had on Monday.
“I think it is one of the most selfless things that I have seen a player do in that he hasn’t asked for any money and he hasn’t asked for any time.
“He could easily hang around for the next 20 weeks and pick up his cheque and play off the bench but he realises he is not getting what he needs out of the game to fulfil himself and in doing that he realises that the club is not getting what ultimately his spot needs to give.
“He has got nothing left to prove to anyone, which is a credit to him because he is not genetically the most gifted person in the world so he has had to work really hard every year of his career to get to where he has been - and he has been to the highest levels of this game year in and year out.”
Merrin made his 150th appearance for the Dragons two weeks ago in their 26-12 upset of Parramatta, and he also played 72 premiership matches for Penrith and 27 for Leeds and was a member of the NSW team that ended Queensland’s eight-year Origin run in 2014.
“To look back at what I have done, I didn’t even think I would get one first-grade game or even play SG Ball,” Merrin said.
We are a selfless club, full of potential and we need my spot to be taken by a young bloke, who is full of ambition, full of drive and full of energy like I was when I was youngerTrent Merrin
“The speed of the game is a different level now but I am proud of myself. I made a goal at the start of the year to play a first grade game. I know where my body is at, I had a major surgery at the end of last year, and I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing it and I did it.
“The next goal was to be able to maintain and I had to look within myself and, being honest, I don’t think I will be able to maintain it for the rest of the year.
“The last straw was my football and if I couldn’t meet a standard that I hold myself to on the field then I was letting not myself down but the team and this club that I love, so I couldn’t let that happen.
“As a professional athlete you always judge yourself on your last two games, not your first and when you go back to back with efforts that you don’t feel your standard has been reached at my age and the way my body is I had to be honest and make that call.”
Merrin addressed the St George Illawarra players before training on Wednesday and team-mates said there had been a few tears as he told them of his decision.
“I just spoke from the heart and what was a hard decision the playing group made it easy because they have set a standard here and so has Hook – and I know that I am not capable any more to reach that standard,” he said.
“We are a selfless club, full of potential and we need my spot to be taken by a young bloke, who is full of ambition, full of drive and full of energy like I was when I was younger.
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“I idolised the club as a kid and I got to play with my idols as well. To be able to come full circle and finish in the Red V I will retire a happy man.
“Debuting for this club was definitely the highlight of my career. Like Hook said, it didn’t come easy for me as a kid, and to be able to don that Red V and live a childhood dream is something I will hold forever.”
The Dragons are undecided whether they will add another player to their roster in place of Merrin this season or wait until 2022 as they do not have to replace him in the club’s top 30 squad and can use his money front load another contract under the NRL’s salary cap rules.
St George Illawarra fans will get the opportunity to celebrate Merrin’s career at the May 2 clash with Wests Tigers at WIN Stadium.
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