Even before he made his NZ Kiwis debut, Watene-Zelezniak had big shoes to fill – great grandfather Steve Watene was a national team captain and lends his name to the NZ Player of the Year trophy.
The teenage prodigy, from Maori, Tonga and Polish descent, grew up in Ngaruawahia, but moved to Sydney as a youngster.
He signed with the Panthers in 2013 and played in their victory over NZ Warriors in the NYC Grand Final.
Watene-Zelezniak turned down Australian Schoolboys selection to represent the Junior Kiwis, scoring two tries in their loss to Junior Kangaroos.
He began the 2014 in reserve grade, before making his first-grade debut against Canberra Raiders in April, scoring two tries.
By the end of the season, he had accumulated seven tries in 10 appearances and forced his way into Kiwis consideration.
Watene-Zelezniak was named to debut against Australia in the Four Nations opener, but had to withdraw from the team with a foot injury that sidelined him for the rest of the tournament.
He was then supposed to make his first Kiwis appearance in the 2015 Anzac Test, but copped a one-week suspension for a dangerous tackle in the previous week’s NRL round.
A collapsed lung ended his NRL season prematurely and ruled him out of the end-of-season Kiwis tour to England, but he finally made his international debut in the 2016 Downer Test against Australia at Newcastle.