Merrin ready to challenge for Blues recall

27 February 2018 05:59:16 EST

Trent Merrin has declared himself in much better shape going into the new season than he was last year at Penrith.

The Panthers forward has felt the benefit of a full pre-season for the first time in two years.

His numbers last season slumped to an average of 55 per game, down from 67 minutes in 2016 when his form earned him a call-up to the Australia squad.

Merrin accepts he was carrying too much weight in 2017, having had his preparations disrupted by a calf injury.

He struggled to catch up on his fitness as the year progressed, piling on weight and struggling to contain his usual mobility.

The 28-year-old said this pre-season had been the best of his career.

"I've put a big effort since missing out on the World Cup and made it best for me. I've put myself in a good position but it's at a point now where I need to translate that into good footy," he added.

"I was carrying a few too many kilos and I couldn't get around the field the way I'd like to - use my footwork and put myself into positions to make that second phase."

Merrin said he'd done a lot of homework on himself over the past year, putting himself in great shape for the new campaign.

If he turns in the performances in the early part of the season it could put him back in the reckoning for NSW in State of Origin.

He was a part of the Blues setup for five-straight seasons playing in 13 games - including the state's successful campaign in 2014 - but was overlooked by former coach Laurie Daley for the past two years.

Speaking of his Origin ambitions, Merrin said: "I never will [give up], it's something that always drives me. As a kid you dream of being in that Blues jersey; I played in 13 games and it's something that I want to continue to do."

Penrith are 97/100 to win their Round 1 clash with Parramatta Eels, who are 20/23.

The Panthers are 20/23 conceding a 1.5-point start.

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