He was a self-confessed slow starter at a new club, but in his second year at the foot of the mountains Trent Merrin knows he is capable of returning to the NRL’s best.

While a change can often be as good as a holiday for one-club NRL players, the former Dragon took some time getting used to the Panthers colours upon his arrival last year. Merrin, who had previously been a leadership figure and dominant force in the St George Illawarra forward pack, was still solid in the opening rounds of the 2016 season – although the 27-year-old admits he was slightly below his best.

“Most definitely,” Merrin tells NSWRL.com.au. “I stepped out of my comfort zone coming into a new team and it took me a little bit to find myself.

“It just needed to take a bit of time for it to really gel together. Especially coming into a new team, new coaching staff… it all played a role.”

Merrin, who has represented the NSW VB Blues on 13 occasions, knows that the marginal dip in early-season form might have played a part in him missing out on Origin selection last year. As Panthers and NRL fans will know, however, the ‘slump’ didn’t last long; the Shellharbour Sharks junior quickly returned to dominance to take his side to the semi-finals and earn a Kangaroos recall at season’s end.

“As soon as I did (find myself), I just grew with confidence and really came into my own,” Merrin says. “It’s something that I knew I was capable of doing.

“I knew if I just hung in there and worked really hard, things would just sooner or later come together – and they did.”

Donning the green and gold for all five Tests at the end of the year, Merrin proved that he can still be a weapon at representative level. In the State of Origin arena, the experienced lock now has his eyes set on the no.13 jersey vacated by retiring captain Paul Gallen – but with 11 rounds to be played before Origin I selections, it is not his prime focus.

“That was last year,” Merrin says. “There’s a lot of hard work I need to do this year. It’s all a clean slate now, I’ve just got to work really hard throughout the year.

“If I get the accolades on the back of that then happy days – I’d be stoked with that – but my first and main priority is this team (the Panthers).”

Facing a similar situation as Merrin did in 2016 is his former VB Blues teammate James Tamou, who arrives at Penrith after playing eight NRL seasons for North Queensland. Tamou, too, is a marquee signing and representative star who will face challenges in adjusting to the new club, but Merrin believes it can only help the Panthers’ bid for the premiership.

“It’s great to have an enforcer like that up in the middle to teach the younger front-rowers that we have in the team,” Merrin says. “To have a player of his credentials and his maturity to come into the middle of the pack… it’s great to have him at the club.”

If fit, the pair are certain to come into consideration when coach Laurie Daley selects his first NSW VB Blues team in May. Their first assignment, however, will be the Dragons on Saturday afternoon, when Merrin in particular is sure to lift against his former club.