Star Penrith recruit Trent Merrin says it was frustrating spending so much time on the bench in 2015 and is hoping to increase his minutes in the reduced-interchange landscape of 2016.
The Dragons lock was handed plenty of down time on the Red V's bench by coach Paul McGregor last season and while the 26-year-old refused to speculate as to whether his agreement to move to Penrith for the following year was a factor, he wants to make up for lost time at his new club.
With the number of interchanges dropping from 10 to eight next year, middle forwards who can play big minutes such as Merrin will only become more valuable.
"It was very frustrating [last season], especially when you know you can give a lot more when you're out there," Merrin said.
"This is something I want to take into next year to try and [improve] my game a bit more and play a lot more minutes. Give me some more time on the field to produce more stuff like I know I'm capable of doing.
"I'd love to play 80 if the game lets me. The game's getting quicker, it just depends on how the game's panning out. It's definitely a goal of mine to try and push for an 80-minute game but there's a lot of hard work between now and then."
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Merrin's average minutes last year sat at just over 50 per game – comfortably down on the 60 or so of the previous two seasons and his lowest since 2011 – and even that was inflated by a few big-minute games mixed with plenty where he spent close to 40 minutes on the bench.
"The more you stay on the field the more match fit you get. Once you get a coach that finds that belief and trust in you to leave you out there to push through the hard times, I think you build that engine inside and you're capable of staying out there longer," he said.
"I'm definitely looking forward to being able to produce a bit more on the field and being able to push myself to that extent," he added.
That focus on endurance would make for an extra-tough pre-season in which the big boys will be expected to strip down a few kilos – which shouldn't be too hard given the heat out west, according to Merrin.
"The boys rip in and it's definitely a bit hotter out there but everyone's handling the new coach and new players very well. It's definitely been great for me. Stepping in there my first week was pretty tough," he said.
"[The reduced interchange] is definitely going to make the game a lot quicker and expose those little athletic players."
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The new Panthers recruit believes the reduced interchange is a move in the right direction. Merrin also felt Penrith would be in a better position than most to take advantage with quick playmakers James Segeyaro and five-eighth Jamie Soward, as well as evasive ball-players such as fullback Matt Moylan on the roster, and some dynamic and talented back-rowers such as Tyrone Peachey and Bryce Cartwright who could benefit from Merrin soaking up plenty of the hard yards in the middle.
"It definitely gives them free range to go out there and produce the talent that they hold, they're definitely freakish players. Especially for the little men in the halves, it's going to open up a lot more for them to produce their goods," he said.
"At Panthers we've got a lot of players that do like a bit of fatigue in the game so they can step up and produce something."
Merrin said the switch to a new club had taken him out of his comfort zone and given him a lift in intensity.
"That's the biggest thing I was looking forward to was the challenge and getting out of my comfort zone and testing new waters and I've definitely done that. It's been great so far, the boys welcomed me straight away and the training's been very hard. Just the support out there is unbelievable and it's definitely heading in the right direction for the Penrith Panthers," he said.
While the coach who had been in charge when Merrin signed, Ivan Cleary, has since been moved on in favour of ex-Brisbane mentor Anthony Griffin, Merrin said he was happy to work under whichever coach the club had despite Cleary having been a factor in recruiting him.
"I was very excited about the way [Cleary] had the style of play for the Panthers the last few years and it was very exciting but in saying that the thing that outweighed them all was my personal goals and what I wanted to achieve personally. It didn't really matter who was going to take charge. I had some goals inside that I wanted to tick off and that's what I'm focusing on," he said.
This article first appeared on NRL.com.