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Dallin Watene-Zelezniak admits he feared he may have missed the chance to play a part in Penrith’s push to the NRL grand final when he was suspended after an allegation of eye-gouging earlier this year.
The 19-year-old wing wizard who burst onto the scene with two tries on debut against Canberra in round five, was banned for four games following an incident during a NSW Cup game in June.
Watene-Zelezniak, who maintains he did nothing wrong, played a major role in Penrith’s stunning upset win over the Sydney Roosters on Saturday with a miracle play to set up Dean Whare’s late try.
But his delight at the final siren at Allianz Stadium on Saturday was in complete contrast to how he felt three months ago when he was stunned to lose an appeal against the charge at a NSW Cup judiciary hearing.
“It was pretty shattering to be banned for something I didn’t do,” Watene-Zelezniak said.
“I was named in first grade that week but had to miss out and I didn’t know when or if I would get back in the team.
“But everything happens for a reason and I just had to come back stronger.”
“I had a lot of people to talk to and it just gave me the hunger to get back and play first grade.”
Former Panthers winger Shane Elford, who is part of the NRL side’s matchday staff and also the club’s education and welfare manager, said he was hugely impressed with how the young Kiwi accepted his punishment and despite his tender years is already showing great signs of maturity.
“He is a great kid Dallin, a very humble and polite young man,” Elford told AAP.
“He’s come through our junior system and his progress is just about on par with what we expected from him.
“Off the field, he studies hard, finished his HSC last year … everything he has experienced this year is a huge learning curve for him.
“I hope and expect he’ll have a long and successful career.”