Merrin bracing for Gong homecoming

Penrith’s Trent Merrin has overcome a bout of glandular fever to be fit for what shapes as a potentially fiery showdown with former side St George Illawarra at WIN Stadium on Sunday.

Merrin was hospitalised after coming down with the virus and missed the Panthers’ first win of the season against NRL competition favourites Brisbane last week.

He will run out against the Dragons for the first-time since his off-season switch to the foot of the mountains and has been warned he could expect a hostile reception.

“We trained today and I’m feeling a lot better than I did on the weekend,” Merrin told Fox Sports.

“It’s getting better every day. I’ll be right to play this weekend.”

Merrin admitted he was grappling with his emotions as he prepares to face the side he debuted with as a 19-year-old in 2009 and won a premiership with the following year.

“As soon as the ball has been kicked I think it’s (just) another game for us to build pressure and head in the right direction,” he said.

While Merrin’s departure from the Dragons was amicable, it rankled the Red V faithful in light of the loss of fellow local juniors Brett Morris and Jack Bird over the previous season.

A big crowd is expected on Easter Sunday afternoon and Merrin, who played 135 games for the Dragons, was warned not all of them would be brimming with the spirit of the holiday.

Dragons back-rower Joel Thompson admits he doesn’t know what sort of reception his former teammate would receive from the local fans but is sure Merrin will come out hard.

“He’ll be fired up the big fella. It’ll be good for him to come back to WIN Stadium,” Thompson said.

Dragons playmaker Benji Marshall is a chance to run out against the Panthers after missing the side’s first win of the season against South Sydney last week.

While Dragons fullback Kurt Mann’s season has been further soured after he suffered a knee injury playing for the Illawarra Cutters last week.

Club officials said the injury was minor and the former Melbourne player was expected back as early as round five.

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