Panthers wiz kid covets No.1 shot
Penrith teenage sensation Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has revealed a burning desire to play fullback is what kept him from signing a long-term deal with the club.
The 19-year-old winger curiously penned a one-year extension with the Panthers last week in a deal that will tie him down until the end of the 2016 season.
"If I work hard, it'll pay off. If I don't work hard, then it won't. It's just something my manager and I have decided," he told NRL.com this week.
"It'll help keep me motivated to give my all each year, give my best to the club. It can go both ways. It can go bad for me, or it could be good if I'm playing good. It'll make me want to try and play my best each game."
With All Stars fullback Matt Moylan established as Penrith's long-term No.1, Watene-Zelezniak chose to forego long-term security in a bid to search for an opportunity to play his preferred position.
But until that time comes, the St Clair Comets junior insisted he was happy to develop his game on the flanks under the tutelage of coach Ivan Cleary for at least the next two seasons.
"I'm grateful and blessed to be able to be here for another year. I couldn't be happier to be at this club," he said.
"Hopefully I can cement a spot in first grade and play week in, week out. That's my main goal. Hopefully I can get a chance to play for the Kiwis too. Maybe without hurting myself this time."
Cleary hoped that his young charger would make a long-term commitment to the club next season.
"I'd like to sign them all for longer, but hopefully we can sort that out down the track. Dallin's still young. We're happy that in the next couple of years, he's developing his game with the Panthers," Cleary said.
"Dallin's one of those kids that came through our system, has made his way into first grade, got picked for his country, but unfortunately got injured and didn't get the chance. He's a great kid, a great talent, and got a big future and very happy that he's spending the next couple of years here."
After scoring seven tries in 10 games in his rookie season, Watene-Zelezniak was a shock selection by New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney for last year's Four Nations.
And the Hamilton product was in line to make a stunning international debut in place of Kiwis veteran Manu Vatuvei in the tournament-opener, but a freak ankle injury in the lead-up ruled him out for the entire campaign and he is now in doubt for Round 1.
"I was just swimming on the beach. I was with Dean Whare, we went over a wave, I put my foot down, it rolled a certain way and then it cracked. I had to get surgery on it in December," he said.
"It feels normal again, it's just getting a bit more confidence back. I'm not back at full training yet, just rehab running. I'll see what the physio says and hopefully I'm right for Round 1."