Rugby League

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak stars on debut as Panthers beat Raiders

The heavens opened up above Sportingbet Stadium on Saturday night, with the torrential rain delivering a superstar in the making.

It is a mouthful, but remember the name Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who scored two tries on debut to lead the Panthers to 12-6 victory against the Canberra Raiders.

All week he had been checking for weather updates in the hope of a dry track for his maiden hit-out in the NRL, and while he did not get the conditions he was after, there was little to wash away his excitement.

While his debut itself produced rocks and diamonds given the slippery conditions, there was no doubting the Panthers have unearthed a freakish talent when it comes to the 18-year-old winger.

You could not blame him for not believing coach Ivan Cleary when he informed him on April Fool's Day that he would make his NRL debut, and there is no doubt he was pinching himself again after a memorable start to his career.

"I had to ask him, 'Are you April fooling me?' " Watene-Zelezniak said.

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"He said, 'Nah, you're getting the opportunity.' I was just stoked, I couldn't believe it. The whole week I was walking around smiling everywhere. My family were proud. I had a few fly over from New Zealand ... my brother, my cousins – I'm just happy I did it for my family.

"I could hear all of them. I dropped a few balls, I was scratchy tonight. But when I dropped the ball I could hear them laughing and mocking me – that's my family."

With regular winger David Simmons out for an extended period, Watene-Zelezniak has the opportunity to make the position his own after a month in the NSW Cup.

But the baby-faced teenager from Patrician Brothers Blacktown, who proved why he is so highly regarded by those at the foot of the mountains, admitted the speed of the game was like nothing he has experienced.

"I didn't know at first that a winger could get tired," Watene-Zelezniak said after the game.

"When I was running out there, the last 12 minutes I started cramping. When they kicked it right at the end I was hobbling along trying to get there."

On a night that required more brains than brilliance, Panthers five-eighth Jamie Soward delivered the goods.

In the red V, Soward had not overcome the Raiders in the past eight games, but that hoodoo came to an end in the heritage chocolate soldiers jersey in front of 7667 fans.

Soward set up a try, kicked a 40-20, forced two goal-line drop outs and booted his side around the park to secure Penrith's third win of the season after slumping to a defeat at the hands of neighbours Parramatta a week ago.

"You can't win those games unless you kick well," Cleary said.

"For big chunks of that second half, we were bringing the ball off our own line and they were really ramping up their defence.

"It wasn't pretty but we did what we had to for the win.'' 

Having led 8-0 at half-time, Penrith had to defend three consecutive sets on their own line to secure the victory. 

"Our goal line defence last week was poor. The first three weeks were OK but hopefully we can get a little bit of confidence out of that tonight," Cleary said.

"Especially with the game on the line – it's always good to be able to look back on."

The game was stopped for almost seven minutes early in the first half when Joel Edwards, who was cleared to play after he was concussed against South Sydney last week, was knocked out trying to tackle Watene-Zelezniak.

Edwards left the field on a stretcher with his neck in a support brace but was later cleared of a serious neck injury and diagnosed with heavy concussion.

The win could come at a price for the Panthers, with second-rower Sika Manu placed on report for a crusher tackle in the ninth minute.

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