Penrith debutant a handful and mouthful

Given Penrith debutant Dallin Watene-Zelezniak had played fullback for most of his junior career, he figured he was in for a cruisy debut waiting for the ball out on the flanks.

But oh boy, little did he know.

When Jamal Idris turned the ball over after the siren, gifting Canberra one final crack at a disjointed Penrith defensive line, Watene-Zelezniak pounced on a loose ball and sat on it. For a very long time.

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"I didn't know at first that a winger could get tired," he said was the first thing he learnt after his first game.

"When I was running out there, the last 12 minutes I started cramping and when they kicked it right at the end, I was hopping along trying to get to it."

It was a nervous start for the 18-year-old whiz kid, turning the ball over twice and also being denied on three of his first four touches. To be fair to the young fella – who just so happens to have as many characters in his name as Jared Waerea-Hargreaves - the torrential downpour that preceded his maiden run-on didn't help.

"I was checking the weather the whole week and I was hoping it was going to be dry. It was dry at the start and I was happy for that," he said.

"But then it started raining, and I was like, 'Oh no.' And I didn't have my metal studs on so I was scared I was going to slip over. I was just happy I got a run."

His coach, who informed his young charger of his selection on April Fool's Day, said Watene-Zelezniak would learn a lot from the experience.

"It was a reasonably big decision [because] you've got to leave someone out," Ivan Cleary said.

"But we've got a lot of confidence in our junior development system here and Dallin's obviously one of our bright lights in that department. He's come through the grades as part of our winning 20s team last year, he's played NSW Cup so far this year and he was playing well so I thought it was, in front of his home fans, it was a good day.

"[It was] a tough night for him. We always figured he was going to get targeted and again, the downpour right at the start of the game, he had a couple of mishaps early on. But got through it. It'll be a good experience I'm sure he'll look back on fondly."

In the end, with family members who had flown over from New Zealand cheering on from the stands, finished his debut with almost 100 run metres and two memorable tries.

"It was relief because I was cramping up and I was like, 'Oh, I don't know how I'm going to go', and also excitement too. I wanted to stay out there," he said.

"I had mixed emotions because I was just happy. And seeing my family support me over in the right corner, I ran over to them straightaway after the game and hugged them and thanked them for everything they've done for me."