Watene-Zelezniak to face Tongan cousins

By Eru Paranihi

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has the unique distinction of being the only Māori Tongan in the Kiwis team to take on Tonga this weekend.

A descendant of a former Kiwis captain, the Waikato-Tainui winger will start for the New Zealand in their Rugby League World Cup match in Hamilton.

The Penrith Panthers winger could easily have been doing the Sipi Tau, but instead has chosen to represent his iwi, and stand as a Kiwi.

“My Dads family is also coming through which is my Dad's Tongan side. I'm pretty sure they're going for the Kiwis, but I haven't asked them,” says Watene-Zelezniak. 

The 22-year-old comes from a strong Rugby League Family. His great-grandfather and former Labour MP Puti Tipene Watene was the first Māori to captain the Kiwis. 

“I'm the first one since him that's played for the Kiwis. The family talks about it a lot. I didn't get to meet him, but I've heard a lot of stories about him, and the man that he was.”

Watene-Zelezniak will also link up with Penrith Panthers teammate Dean Whare to shut down Michael Jennings who is currently the top try scorer of the tournament with five tries.

Teammate  Dean Whare (Te Arawa) says, “We've combined really good. Over the last three or four years, we've been together on the one side. If we can play together here I think it will fall into place really easily."

“I've been playing with Deano since 2014, and he's a massive help to me, [I've] learned a lot from him,” says Watene-Zelezniak 

Dallin has scored 35 tries in the NRL and would love nothing but to cross the line in front of his family.

“I haven't scored a try in a black jersey yet, so fingers crossed.”

With Dallin starting this weekend, it's an indication that coach David Kidwell sees the young Waikato-Tainui lad as his number one winger.