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Highs and lows: The milestone DWZ thought would never arrive

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has packed a lot into his first 99 NRL matches in an eventful journey to triple figures which nearly ended abruptly in his second season.

The Penrith winger, who will reach the milestone in Friday night's grudge match against the Wests Tigers, thought his career could have been over four years ago.

After overcoming a collapsed lung in 2015, the same year his mentor Ivan Cleary was shown the door at the club, the flying utility back thought injury could cut short his time as a Panther as well.

DWZ revealed he continues to manage certain breathing aspects to his training regime after being hospitalised during the tumultuous period in which he missed the final 10 games of the 2015 season.

"That first question I asked the doctor – I said I don't really care about anything else but will I play football again?" Watene-Zelezniak said.

"At the time it was an immature [question] but that's all I wanted to do as a kid was play football.

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"When I was a kid growing up I thought maybe I might get a game here or there in my mid-20s if I'm doing well but never in my life did I think I'd play 100 games.

"That was the last thought in my head, the first thought was to play one game after that."

The 24-year-old speedster has developed from a promising local junior to an international leader with the highs of captaining New Zealand and playing alongside brother Malakai at the top of his list.

He returned from New Zealand's tour of the United Kingdom in November as arguably their most consistent performer.

The devout Mormon believed it was his faith mixed in with schooling and training that created a strict schedule to keep him on track as a teenager to achieve his dreams.

"I didn't really have childhood friends growing up, I was always training and putting my foot down," he said.

"That was my life for four years and I'm very happy that sacrifice has paid off now. My friends are my football mates so I've invested a lot of time into this."

The thought of following Jordan Rapana and Will Hopoate to complete a Mormon mission had also crossed his mind but he resisted the urge at least for the immediate future.

"I was contemplating going on my mission, that's why I only ever signed one-year deals," he said.

Panthers v Wests Tigers - Round 4

"The club knew I wanted to go but then I met my beautiful wife [Purdy] and my mind changed in those areas. I ended up staying and marrying her.

"They [family] are all proud because they know how much rugby league means to me and how much time I’ve invested and sacrificed.

"I've had an interesting career, a lot of ups and downs but the downs have made the ups even better."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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