Captain, Trent Merrin, gives his Leeds Rhinos return the thumb's up
CAPTAIN TRENT Merrin has confirmed he is happy to be back at Leeds Rhinos, settled in Betfred Super League and determined to ensure the club has a better season in 2020.
Circumstances on and off the field combined to make this year the most testing of Merrin’s professional career and a return to Australia’s NRL seemed likely a month ago.
But now the uncertainty has been settled, Merrin has thanked Rhinos for their support through some tough times and says he will be going all-out to repay them when the new campaign begins in February.
The 30-year-old joined Rhinos from Penrith Panthers last November on a four-year marquee contract.
He made 28 appearances and was third in Leeds’ player of the year standings, but missed two games midway through the campaign after returning to Australia on compassionate grounds.
Because of a “difficult family situation”, Rhinos gave Merrin permission at the end of last season to look for a club in the NRL, but he revealed in October he would be returning to Leeds and reported in for Monday’s start of day pre-season.
In his first press interview since arriving back in Leeds on Saturday, Merrin, whose partner is expecting a baby next year, explained the circumstances behind his decision to look for a club back home.
“It has been a difficult year for us as a family,” Merrin reflected. “But it has been a great time too, we’ve just found out we’re having a little bub.
“It has been a rocky road on and off the field and it’s more than rugby league, you look after your family too.
“The club were great with me and my partner Jess in everything that was going on. They supported us 100 per cent.”
Merrin said his commitment to Rhinos has never wavered, but he stressed: “Obviously I had to do the right thing by my family and my partner and we did that; we tested it and talked about it a lot over the break.
“We always wanted to come back, but it was more about being around our family, especially going through a tough time with personal reasons last year.
“We are going through a great time now with the bub on the way and it was more about putting people around my partner.
“It’s obviously a difficult thing to do, coming to a different country and not having a support unit like your family around.
“We had to figure out what we wanted to do. We had some tough conversations, me and my partner, but we did enjoy our year here last year, besides the circumstances we went through.
“We had a good chat and we knew it couldn’t top the year we had last year.
“The baby is the best thing that could have happened to us and we are really positive.
“The club has been excellent with us, they guided us through everything and they will be getting that in return from my playing abilities this year.”
Merrin insisted: “I am stoked [to be back].
“Last year was probably the most difficult year I’ve had in my career, changing countries, moving houses and personal things.
“I’ve come into this year and everything’s set, I walked into a house and furniture was there, I know faces now and I’m more comfortable.
“Last year was being comfortable in the uncomfortable, I am comfortable now and I couldn’t be more happy with the few days we’ve had already.
“If that shows what we’re going to have for the rest of the year, the future’s bright.”
After his impressive debut campaign, Merrin’s return is a huge boost for Rhinos.
He was made captain in June when Kallum Watkins signed for Gold Coast Titans and six wins from his 10 games as skipper were enough to keep the eight-time champions in the top flight.
“It is good to be back with the boys,” he said.
“As much as you dread pre-season, it’s always the best part of the year, I guess.
“You get in, you rip in with the boys and you go through some dark places with each other.
“You help each other out and you get through some tough times.
“As much as you dread it, it is probably the best thing for you for the season.
“We’ve come in all guns blazing and I’m proud of everyone who’s turned up. Everyone’s ready to rumble so that’s a good start.”
Rhinos had six weeks off after the final game of 2019.
Unusually, the majority of the squad were in from day one of pre-season.
Some players recovering from injury and others who have been on international duty, however, have been given an extended break.
“Everyone’s come back fresh,” Merrin reported.
“Everyone did a bit of work on themselves over the break and they’ve come in energised and ready to go, which is what you want from a squad.
“It is good to see the energy and enthusiasm of the team coming back after a really rocky season for us.
“To get away and refresh is probably the best thing for us and we’ve come in bouncing.”
This pre-season will last almost three months, until Rhinos’ Super League opener at home to Hull on Sunday, February 2.
Warm-up games begin against Wakefield Trinity on Boxing Day and the full pre-season schedule is due to be confirmed over the next few days.
After last term’s relegation battle and eventual eighth-placed finish, Merrin knows the coming weeks will be vital. He said: “It was a bumpy road last year and it’s great to get everyone in, working together for a collective goal.
“We learned a lot about ourselves last year, we got together at the start on day one and put some goals down of where we want to get to as a squad. It is always tough in pre-season, but I think we’re going to be better for it and we’ll come together a lot more as a squad.”