'Embarrassed' DWZ desires Kiwis shot
Most players shy away from expressing their desire for a representative jumper. But as we learnt last year, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak isn't like most players.
On the back of an impressive rookie campaign that netted him nine tries in 17 games, Penrith's teenage flyer soared all the way into New Zealand's Four Nations squad at the end of last season.
It was a dream first year that was set to culminate in an international debut in the tournament-opener against the might of the Kangaroos.
But as fate would have it, the 19-year-old fractured his foot jumping over a wave on match eve and was ruled out of the tournament.
"I was embarrassed for my family," Watene-Zelezniak told NRL.com on Tuesday.
"The way it happened, if it happened at training or happened playing, it would've have been so bad. But because it was a casual swim at the beach, that's why it was embarrassing."
A foot injury to incumbent Kiwis winger Jason Nightingale – who replaced Watene-Zelezniak in the tournament – is expected to rule the Dragons veteran out of next Friday's Test against Australia, opening the door for the Hamilton product to finally kick-start his international career.
"You never like to see one of your brothers go down injured. But if that opportunity comes, I'll take it with both hands," Watene-Zelezniak said.
"It's been in the back of my mind. I want to pick up where I didn't even start. That's going to be a goal of mine, and even when I do keep playing that's always going to be a goal – to represent my country.
"I'm just concentrating on my form at the moment and trying to better myself week in, week out for the Panthers."
Watene-Zelezniak returned home to have surgery on his foot immediately after the first game of the tournament, a match where the Kiwis set the tone for their second Four Nations crown with a 30-12 upset win over Australia.
But the second-year Panther was invited back for the final in Wellington, which the home side won again 22-12.
"They flew me back for the final. They said, 'When we start together, we finish together', so they got me back over there," he said.
"It was an awesome feeling, the fact that they were thinking about me even though I wasn't there, was massive for me. That's the culture of the Kiwis – once you're there, everyone's family. No one forgets."
Not even clubmate Elijah Taylor, who hasn't pulled on the black jumper since going down to the Kangaroos in the World Cup final in 2013.
Injury has forced the 10-Test Kiwi to miss both last year's tournament and the mid-year Test, but that didn't stop him from backing his fellow countryman to make his mark on the international stage.
"I've got no doubt. I've got full confidence if he gets chosen that he can do the job. He's a great kid. His head's on his shoulders, he's very humble, he works hard at his craft, at what he does. If he gets the nod, he'll do his country really proud," Taylor said.
"[We're] amazed at his freakish ability. He does freakish things out on the field – a bit like Matty Moylan – he's just naturally gifted, just does things that I can't, or things that anyone else can't.
"And they work hard as well, they don't just rely on their talent. He puts in the hard yards and he's getting the rewards. If he gets the nod for the country, good luck to him."