Panthers’ Merrin backs DWZ replacement

Penrith star Trent Merrin has praised the club’s valuable depth that will allow the Panthers to replace one former international for a current one.

New Zealand winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is set to miss the start of the NRL season, joining fellow Test player Josh Mansour on the sidelines, after suffering a knee injury during training.

However coach Anthony Griffin has shown how deep his roster is, naming former Kiwi representative duo Dean Whare and Peta Hiku for Saturday’s final trial against Parramatta.

Merrin, who has been rested from the clash with a calf injury, backed Whare and Hiku to come back strongly from their own knee reconstructions on the wing.

“There’s a lot of depth there. Whoever fills in the spot will do the job,” Merrin said.

“Everyone’s had a great pre-season, they’ve played some great trials so far. Everyone’s really ready to put the boots on to play some footy.”

The Panthers lock predicted Watene-Zelezniak to come back by round two at the latest.

“He’s sweet, he should be there at the start of the year, if not round two. It’s nothing major. Just a little niggle that we needed to get on top of,” Merrin said.

Merrin downplayed his own calf issue that means he is likely to enter the Panthers’ season opener against his former club St George Illawarra without a trial hitout under his belt.

“I’d be fit to play this week if I really had to, but it’s just precautionary to give me an extra two weeks under my belt to get everything right and ready for round one,” he said.

“We’ve just been pushing ourselves really hard at training, and the calf’s got a big frame to hold too, so that doesn’t help. These things happen. I’ll be right.”

The Panthers have otherwise named a full-strength squad to take on the Eels, with skipper Matt Moylan and Peter Wallace making their first appearance of the pre-season.

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