IF Leeds Rhinos beat visitors Hull KR in this evening’s ‘four-pointer’, Trent Merrin will become the first player to lead them to victory in his first three Super League games as captain.
The Australian forward, in his debut year with the club, took over from Gold Coast Titans-bound Kallum Watkins when Rhinos played host to Catalans Dragons two weeks ago.
That success was followed by an 18-10 victory at Castleford Tigers last Friday when Merrin was among Leeds’ try scorers and the former Test and State of Origin loose-forward has lived up to his marquee tag.
Now ninth in the Betfred-sponsored table, Leeds will be four points clear of fellow strugglers Hull KR with only seven games remaining if they can pick up another win this evening. They were bottom of the table when Merrin led them out as captain for the first time and he described the duty as “a great challenge”.
He said: “I was sad to see Kallum go, but it was also great to see him take on a challenge like that. It left a void for the captaincy, I was asked to take on the job and I am enjoying it.”
Merrin filled in as skipper at his old club Penrith Panthers on occasions and stressed: “I have had a bit of a taste of it, but to be consistently captain has been a great challenge.
“I am a big believer in leading by actions. I think sometimes when you talk too much you probably don’t deliver on the actions you are meant to. I have learned over the years to lead by your actions and, if you need to pull up on a few things, then do so.”
That approach seems to be working, but Merrin played down his own role, adding: “It has got nothing to do with the captaincy, it is the group and how we are tying things together. It is very humbling to see.
“When you go through a tough time like we have you can go one of two ways, you can spiral downwards or rise above it. I think [interim-coach] Richard Agar has done a great job to step in, put everything that’s going on to one side and just focus on the group and get each individual playing their best style of footy. The last two weeks have been great, but I am not worrying about any accomplishments as a captain – the group is what I am focusing on.”
Rhinos lost their first three games under Agar, who took over in May when Dave Furner was sacked, but have won four of their last six, the past two against the team that was, at the time, fourth in the table.
Merrin reflected: “I am a good mate of Dave’s and he was one of the reasons I came to the club so obviously it was a tough period.
“Rich is a good mate of Dave’s as well and it’s a tough gig to step into that role, but he has put everything aside and just focused on the boys. That’s what he has done really well and he has got us playing together as a group and focusing on one week at a time. He has done a great job and to push all that aside and focus on the main goal is credit to himself.”
Of Furner’s departure, Merrin admitted: “It is tough; we are all people at the end of the day. What I do for a job is a different story.
“To have a mate going through what he has is obviously hard to see and watch, but you have to put your professional hat on and go to work each day and try and put that aside and do what’s best for the team.
“It has definitely been challenging, but I know Dave will find a great gig either over here or back home. He is just that quality of a person. I am still in touch with him and it is hard to see, but you have to put that aside and get on with things. I have got a job to do here with the team and that’s how I’ve managed things.”
He isn’t underestimating the importance of tonight’s match, but Merrin does not regard it as make or break. He observed: “Every game is big at the moment. It is a big game for us in where we want to keep going to.
“It’s not about staying clear of the bottom, it’s trying to get to the top – that’s what we are focusing on. We have just got to keep working hard at training, focus on us as a team, keep doing the good things we are doing and tidy up the bad things.”
Though a relegation struggle wasn’t what Merrin signed up for, he has no regrets. He said: “I am enjoying the challenge and the growth or myself and my partner and everything we’ve had to overcome this year.
“It is great to see how we are pushing through the dark side of it and starting to see the light now. It’s a cliche, but you have to go through tough times to enjoy the good and I think we are reaping those rewards now.”