After a turbulent 2015 season that saw him hospitalised twice, Penrith Panthers winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is just happy to be playing football again.
Last July the 20-year-old’s life took an unexpected turn when he was diagnosed with primary spontaneous pneumothorax (collapsed lung), a genetic condition that results in the build-up of air in the space between the lungs and chest cavity.
After recovery took longer than expected, Watene-Zelezniak was forced to undergo surgery that saw him miss the remainder of the 2015 season.
Since returning to pre-season training in November with no major complications, Watene-Zelezniak said he is feeling fit and healthy ahead of Penrith’s Round 1 clash against Canberra.
“The trial against Canterbury was my first good hit out in seven months and my lungs are feeling good,” he told the Weekender.
“I no longer need any more treatment, everything is done now, and my lungs are perfectly fine.”
Since debuting in 2014, Watene-Zelezniak is considered one of the NRL’s most exciting youngsters. But despite all his promise and ability, the New Zealander is yet to play a full season without injury – something that he hopes he has a little luck with during his third season in the top grade.
“My goal this year is to have a full season injury free,” he admitted.
“There’s always something little that happens but hopefully nothing major like last year.
“I’ve just got to keep playing consistent footy to keep my spot in the team.”
It’s likely that Watene-Zelezniak’s spot in that team will be on the wing for now but, when an eventual Matt Moylan shift to the halves occurs, you can expect the young Kiwi to be first in line for that number ‘1’ jersey.
“Wherever the coach wants me, I’ll play,” he said.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing fullback growing up but you’ve got a guy like Matty Moylan in that position now so you’ve just got to play in whatever position the coach asks you to.
“Playing outside Moyza is great for me and he deserves to play fullback, he’s an awesome player.”
When pressed on where he really wants to play down the track, Watene-Zelezniak couldn’t have been more diplomatic.
“I just want to play in the team, fullback is the position I usually play but as I said before you’ve got a player like Moyza there who’s unbelievable,” he said.
Wherever Watene-Zelezniak’s future lies in Penrith’s first grade line-up probably doesn’t matter for now as long as he’s wearing a Panthers jersey and not a hospital gown.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.