Even Mal Meninga’s famous loyalty card did not look like saving out-of-form incumbent Test lock Trent Merrin ahead of next week’s trans-Tasman clash in Canberra.
But Merrin’s Penrith coach Anthony Griffin insisted the hardworking forward deserved to retain his green and gold jersey for the May 5 clash.
Despite an ordinary NRL season start, Merrin kept his starting spot against New Zealand after Kangaroos coach Meninga kept the faith with his Four Nations incumbents.
Meninga’s loyalty would surely have been tested after Merrin battled to reclaim 2016’s career-best form for the ailing Panthers.
Last season Merrin averaged 156 running metres and almost 35 tackles a match.
This year he is averaging 118m and 30 tackles a game for a third-last Panthers side that have lost four straight games.
Griffin is the first to admit Merrin had not matched the form that helped Australia claim the 2016 Four Nations crown but the Panthers coach believed he deserved the nod after last year’s heroics.
“Trent has his areas that he has to work on, like a lot of players, even though I thought he was a lot better last weekend,” Griffin said.
“But to get to the international level like he did at the end of last year he deserves some loyalty for that and now he has received it.”
Meninga hinted that Merrin was trying too hard at club level but would find his feet alongside his Test teammates.
“Trent’s playing in a team that’s struggling at the moment,” he said.
“I still think he’s trying hard. Their (NRL) form I don’t think really matters.
“They come back in to an environment where they’re comfortable … and that’ll affect them in a positive way.”
Griffin hoped the Test call-up would be a shot in the arm for Merrin’s club form ahead of Thursday night’s NRL clash with Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium.
“It’s a good sign of faith by Mal,” he said. He was their best forward in Europe last year.
“I know Mal is very big on loyalty. I am happy Trent retains his spot and I know he will do a really good job.”