'Future leader' DWZ stays in Kiwi camp
Suspended Penrith winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is staying in the New Zealand camp for the week leading up to Friday's Trans-Tasman Test because of his value to the group and as part of his future development.
Having been denied a Test debut last year due to a fractured foot ahead of the Four Nations, the 19-year-old whiz kid has again been dealt a blow – a grade 1 dangerous throw charge, meaning his one-match suspension will be served in what would have been his Test debut.
The Kiwis and Panthers decided against a last-ditch challenge to try and get him off the charge, partly because there was little optimism of success and to avoid disrupting the already very tight preparations for the one-off Test.
Kiwis assistant coach David Kidwell told media on Tuesday that the Panthers flyer would remain with the group throughout the week before returning to his club on Saturday after the Test.
"We're obviously all disappointed for him, last year with his foot injury and this incident now," Kidwell said.
"We've kept him in the camp, we see him as a future leader for the Kiwis so it's good to have him still around the camp.
"He's such a good young man with a good head on his shoulders, that's why the boys like him in camp and that's why he's staying around."
Kidwell also sang the praises of another highly-rated youngster – New Zealand-born Broncos utility Kodi Nikorima, who is with the group as a development player.
"He's another good young player, he comes from my home town of Christchurch. It's always good to see league players out of the south island," he said.
"He's performing for the Broncos. Stephen [Kearney] holds him in high regard; really good guy to have around the camp.
"We've done it [with] other young guys, bringing them in and making them feel a part of what's in the future for them."
Kidwell said the 21-year-old half or hooker is not in the squad as injury cover.
"He's just here for experience, just to have him around the camp so he knows what the Kiwis are all about and I think he's loving it," he said.
Jason Nightingale – the man flown in to replace Watene-Zelezniak – said it was a shame to see the young winger miss his Test debut again but had no doubts it would happen sooner rather than later.
"He's a pretty positive guy and he's upbeat and knows his opportunity will come and he's excited for it. Now there's been a bit of a delay there's a bit of a story on when he does finally get his crack but he's taken it really well," Nightingale said.
"He just said to me before he wants to go to England [for the end-of-year Kiwi Test tour] so he's looking to the future and how he can fulfil one of his goals."