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On the surface the close bond shared between Nathan Peats and Trent Merrin appears an unlikely one but the fact these two were friends before footballers has served them well as they embarked on parallel and extraordinary careers.

When Peats played his 100th NRL game last weekend Merrin took to Twitter to congratulate his "best mate" and given the highs and lows the pair have experienced this season each has been a constant source of support.

Although he was born in Wollongong and his junior club is listed as the Shellharbour Sharks, Merrin actually spent the majority of his childhood in Sydney's inner city dreaming of playing for the Rabbitohs.

Born almost exactly a year apart (Merrin was born on October 7, 1989 and Peats on October 5, 1990) the pair weren't brought together by footy or school but by family and a mutual friend in Aaron Grech.

As teenagers, Merrin and Grech would often duck down on weekends to a caravan park at Windang on the New South Wales south coast with Peats tagging along at every opportunity if for no other reason than to sneak a few formative beers as 15 and 16-year-olds.

When Peats headed north to join the Titans in May Grech lost his assistant coach of the under-13 La Perouse Panthers but didn't have to look far to find another high-profile replacement capable of keeping a rowdy bunch of boys in check.

They're the kind of shared experiences that form lasting friendships but Merrin said the details of some of their stories would be "too rude for your recorders".

"He's just my mate," was the simplest way Peats could explain it.

"We get along together, we have a beer together and both play footy.

"We were pretty much kids together so we just like to have a muck around and have a laugh.

"He's a really good fella Trent and really respectful. I give him a fair bit of crap and he cops it pretty well. He's not as out there as I am I guess."

The banter has already begun through their shared WhatsApp group but although friends are travelling to the Gold Coast and bunking in at the Peats house to watch their mates go head-to-head for a Telstra Premiership finals berth, the Titans hooker doesn't expect to see Merrin until they clash on-field.

"He's pretty 'serro' (serious), he probably won't want nothing to do with me," Peats told of a potential pre-match catch-up.

"I'll just give him some crap on WhatsApp and tease him as I usually do but he's a pretty serious type of character when it comes to footy.

"We've got all our friends coming up this weekend, three of their friends and their partners so they're all going to stay at my house so hopefully it will be a good game and we'll all catch up after the game."

It's been a roller-coaster of emotions for both players this season with Peats forced out of the Eels only to land squarely on his feet at the Titans whilst Merrin has channelled the disappointment of his Origin omission into arguably career-best form.

For Merrin, seeing Peats grow into his role as a father and reach the 100-game milestone given his run of serious injuries has been one of the highlights of his year.

"Every year he's learning more about himself and I think he's matured a lot since he first came into grade," Merrin said.

"It just goes to show how much he's learned and how much he's grown as a man and as a player that when he gets criticism or things like that go against him, he's got that mature head on his shoulders how to do it the right way.

"It was all credit to himself that with the injuries he's had he's bounced back from and especially this year it's been a big challenge for him to change clubs after getting kicked out of Parra. And now he's playing great footy for the Gold Coast.

"I absolutely love him and it's great to see him succeed in that area and there's plenty more games to come."

It was somewhat fitting that Peats's first game for his new club was against the Panthers back in Round 11 but there is a far more different team and a far greater prize awaiting if Gold Coast can get the job done again on Saturday.

Either way, when the 80 minutes of football is finished, two friends will have another memory to share the next time they meet up.

This article first appeared on

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.