Penrith believe they have put in place the final piece of their premiership puzzle after signing NSW back-rower Trent Merrin on a big-money deal for the 2016 NRL season.
Merrin on Monday announced he would leave St George Illawarra at the end of 2015 to take up a three-year $2 million deal at Penrith.
He resisted an offer to join Brisbane and reunite with coach Wayne Bennett, who handed him his first-grade debut at the Dragons.
Penrith general manager Phil Gould described Merrin’s signature as one of the most important in the club’s history.
The Panthers’ playing group is considered one of the best young squads in the NRL and Merrin’s Origin and premiership-winning experience is seen as a vital cog in their title ambitions.
“We are absolutely delighted to confirm Trent Merrin will be joining the Panthers for the next three seasons,” Gould said.
“This is one of the most significant player signings this club has made in its 49-year history.
“Trent has been part of a premiership-winning team and already achieved 10 State of Origin appearances for NSW.
“At 25 years of age we believe Trent is about to enter the prime time of his playing career with his best football still in front of him.
“Apart from his obvious playing talents, Trent brings valuable experience and leadership qualities to Panthers. We are very excited about this signing.”
Merrin will become the second NSW representative to leave the Dragons in as many years following Brett Morris’ move to the Bulldogs this season.
Gould was instrumental in luring Merrin to the foot of the mountains and the Shellharbour junior is convinced Penrith is the club which can springboard him to even higher honours.
Panthers CEO Justin Pascoe said Merrin’s decision showed Penrith is an attractive proposition for big-name players.
“Trent is an outstanding footballer and person and will add enormous experience and value to our existing squad and also our young forwards coming through our pathway program,” Pascoe said.
“We are extremely honoured that Trent has chosen to join our organisation and it gives us a great amount of satisfaction that all the work we’re doing on and off the field is proving to be attractive to those outside the organisation.”