NEW Leeds Rhinos captain Trent Merrin admits it was “tough” seeing mate Dave Furner sacked as coach – but believes interim replacement Richard Agar has them on the right path as they look to take a step closer to Super League safety tonight.
Leeds host joint-bottom Hull KR knowing a third successive victory will see them move four points clear of their opponents with just seven games remaining.
Former Australia Test loose forward Merrin – who joined as a ‘marquee’ player from Penrith Panthers in the off-season – has taken over the captaincy since England centre Kallum Watkins left for Gold Coast Titans at the end of last month.
Earlier, he was sad to see fellow Australian Furner axed just 14 games into his own stint since arriving from South Sydney but – with four wins out of their last six outings – realises Agar is starting to reap rewards.
Merrin, 29, said: “I am a good mate of Dave’s and he was one of the reasons I came to the club so, obviously, it was a tough period.
“Rich is a good mate of Dave’s as well and it’s a tough gig to step into that role.
“But he has put everything aside and just focused on the boys. That’s what he has done really well and he has got us playing together as a group and focusing on one week at a time.
“When you go through a tough time like we have you can go one of two ways: spiral downwards or rise above it.
“He has done a great job and to push all that aside and focus on the main goal is credit to himself.
“He has got each individual playing their best style of footy.”
On Furner’s exit, Merrin added: “It has definitely been challenging, but I know Dave will find a great gig either over here or back home.
“He is just that quality of a person. I am still in touch with him and it is hard to see, but you have to put that aside and get on with things.
“I have got a job to do here with the team and that’s how I’ve managed things.”
He has certainly proved his worth this year, living up to his high-profile status and dragging Leeds through games at times.
Merrin was a try-scorer again as they won at Castleford Tigers last week and will look to build on that tonight.
“Every game is big at the moment,” said the ex-St George-Illawarra loose forward who earned seven Kangaroos caps.
“It is a big game for us in where we want to keep going to.
“It’s not about staying clear of the bottom, it’s trying to get to the top – that’s what we are focusing on. We have just got to keep working hard at training, focus on us as a team, keep doing the good things we are doing and tidy up the bad things.”
Hull KR coach Tony Smith knows how priceless a win at his old club will be.
Likewise, KR’s Danny McGuire makes his 400th Super League appearance tonight. That 370 of those came in Leeds colours needs no explaining.
Yet this will be the veteran half-back’s final game at Headingley before retiring and, if allowed, he is ready to break blue and amber hearts.