April 14, 2021

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Brother's incredible sacrifice driving NRL star

4 min read
By his own admission, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak had a rubbish 2020 season. But the Bulldogs outside...

By his own admission, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak had a rubbish 2020 season.

But the Bulldogs outside back also possesses a terrific sense of perspective and purpose as he strives to make amends for a souped-up squad this year.

That's in no small part thanks to older brother and former Bulldogs teammate, Malakai, who was forced into a shock early retirement in January after being hospitalised for acute kidney failure.

The brothers and business partners (they co-own a designer watch brand) are extremely close and have rode the full gamut of the rugby league rollercoaster together.

Dallin, 25, is the New Zealand Kiwis Test captain and an established NRL star.

But Malakai, 29, had to scrap and claw for every first-grade appearance.

He made his NRL debut outside little bro for the Panthers in 2017 and played 31 first grade games across four seasons.

Malakai was training with the Bulldogs in the hope of adding to that tally when the health scare struck over summer.

"One day in the car he didn't feel right and he went and got a scan and blood test," Dallin Watene-Zelezniak told Wide World of Sports.

"His kidneys weren't functioning the way they were supposed to so he thought he wouldn't risk his health for the game.

"Obviously he wanted to keep playing, it's our childhood dream, but he's 30 this year.

"He's married with two kids and there's bigger things in his life – in all of our lives – than football. It was hard for him but I think it's the right decision for his health and he's got the watches to transition to.

"Even though it was tough, we might have got a few games at the Bulldogs together and finished together, but it was nice to have pre-season and do some tough sessions together and live our childhood dream for as long as we did."

The fight and perseverance that Malakai displayed will continue to inspire and drive Dallin this season.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKTED9YJWwU/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

"I remember at Penrith he was working night shifts and playing NSW Cup," Watene-Zelezniak said.

"Sometimes he'd get called in the morning to come up and train with grade. So he'd do the night shift and rock up to training the next day without sleeping. I had full nights' rest and was running next to him – I knew what he was doing to try and crack grade.

"I was running next to him like 'come on brother, we can do this together.'

"He was working really hard and there were times that he didn't know if he could keep going because he had two kids that he needed to provide for.

"It made me appreciate my career a lot more, seeing how hard he was working to live our childhood dream together. I made memories through his hard work. Being able to play in his debut and play Maoris last year, things like that are a credit to him and his hard work."

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Dallin said Malakai would be a regular presence at Bulldogs games this season and was confident that he would witness some improved performances from last year.

Only the Broncos saved the three win Bulldogs from the dreaded wooden spoon and Watene-Zelezniak is willing to wear his share of the blame.

"Personally, last year was probably my worst," he says bluntly.

"I've really got some work to do to try and make up for last year and make sure that no-one remembers it. I could sit here and make excuses for myself but my performances speak for themselves.

"There were many factors that led to the outcomes of the way I was playing but I'm not one to try and make myself feel better with excuses or anything. I had a really bad year last year and I need to make up for it this year."

Watene-Zelezniak will have some exciting new back three companions by his side.

State of Origin stars Nick Cotric and Corey Allan have signed on from the Raiders and Rabbitohs respectively to give Trent Barrett's side some serious strike.

"Nick Cotric is hard to handle, far out," Watene-Zelezniak said.

"I think I'll be calling on him to take the first carry each time. He brings some class, we're lucky to have him. And Corey Allan is silky and been training really well.

"They might be younger than me but I'm learning a lot. They come from different systems and can teach you things if you're willing to learn.

Corey Allan had a breakout year with South Sydney. (Getty)

"Winning gives you a lot of confidence so those boys coming in gives the team confidence – they've experienced winning. It's exciting and a privilege to play with them."

As for the message to the long suffering Belmore faithful, who haven't been treated to finals football since 2016?

"Just know that we're working so hard in pre-season to get better results than last year," Watene-Zelezniak said.

"Have faith in us. I know it's been a long few years but we're coming along.

"It feels good, the vibe is good so have some faith in us and we'll try and return the favour by winning some games."

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