EVER since he first picked up a rugby league football, Shellharbour's Trent Merrin dreamt of one day playing for the St George Illawarra Dragons.
That became a reality on May 29, 2009, when he debuted for the Red V against the Panthers in round 12.
And apart from brief stints with Penrith and Leeds, the 31-year-old has been living out that Dragons dream ever since - so much so, he'll play his 150th game for the club this Sunday.
"It's great how it's come full circle and I can't speak highly enough of the club who gave me my first opportunity all those years ago to live out my childhood dream," Merrin said.
"They were always the club I wanted to play for growing up in the area.
"Although I went away for a little bit, I'm still as passionate about the Red V as I was when I first pulled it on.
"To be able to play for the club 150 times is something I never thought would happen, especially when I left at the end of 2018.
"I don't regret anything in my career and have enjoyed everywhere I've gone - it's rare someone gets a chance to come back to where it all started and I'm very thankful for that.
"It's a very proud moment and one that will stay with me for the rest of my life."
During his time with the Dragons, the Group Seven junior has achieved plenty but none are more special than the 2010 premiership.
"Winning that premiership, as well as playing alongside my idols, have definitely been the highlight of my time here at the club," Merrin, who's played seven times for Australia and 13 for NSW during his career, said.
"That era back then was extremely special and I'm still really close with a lot of those boys - it was a season none of us will ever forget.
"The club is still very similar to when I first joined in some regards and it's definitely shaped the person I am today.
"Every single person at the club, from the coaches, players, physios, trainers and fans have had an impact on my life - I've had the privilege to meet a lot of great people in the Red V.
"Although those years are starting to catch up with me, my passion for the jersey and club keeps you going, which is why I help mentor the next crop of players coming through.
"I've always been one to try to live and breath my own morals and values, which I hope filters down to the younger guys in the playing group.
"But today's crop is very mature for their age, hold themselves very well and great, upstanding men of the community - as they are always prepared to put others in front of themselves.
"They are all a testament to themselves, their families and the club and I'm very lucky to be able to run out alongside each week."
A cherry on the top of Merrin's milestone would be knocking off the undefeated Eels at Bankwest Stadium.
"Parramatta has been a top-four side for the past few years and they are getting hungrier every year to get to the summit," the 223-game NRL veteran said.
"It's definitely going to be a massive challenge for us against a side that's been nothing short of outstanding through the first four rounds.
"They're one of the benchmark sides in the competition right now and we're doing everything to prepare as best we can, against a side which will be our biggest test yet.
"Especially in front of their fans, which are some of the most ruthless in the competition - we experienced a hostile reception in Newcastle last week and I expect the same this Sunday."
Without looking too far ahead, Merrin is confident the 3-1 Dragons are starting to build something really special at the club.
"Obviously it would be great to have a fairytale ending to this season, but having won a competition before, I know how much hard work goes into it," he said.
"But the feeling at the club is exceptional at the moment and all the boys are prepared to work for one another and execute those finer details for the greater good.
"I'm confident, if we can continue to build, buy-in as a collective group and keep all our players on the field, there's no reason why this can't be a season we'll never forget."
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