Warriors retain Watene-Zelezniak after career-best year

Jasper Bruce |

Free-scoring Dallin Watene-Zelezniak enjoyed a breakout year with the Warriors in 2023.
Free-scoring Dallin Watene-Zelezniak enjoyed a breakout year with the Warriors in 2023.

Red-hot winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has re-signed with the Warriors through 2025 on the first day of the NRL player market re-opening.

Canberra have also taken advantage of the November window opening to secure Super League grand final-winning forward Morgan Smithies on a three-year deal.

From Wednesday, clubs are able to hold formal talks with players whose current deals run out at the end of 2024.

The highly regarded Watene-Zelezniak, who enjoyed a career-best year at the resurgent Warriors, will remain in Auckland for at least another two seasons after signing a one-year extension.

Few Warriors benefited more from the side’s permanent return to Auckland in 2023 following three years of COVID-enforced disruptions.

Watene-Zelezniak was named one of two Dally M wingers of the year for his role in hoisting the Warriors from second-last in 2022 to preliminary finalists under rookie coach Andrew Webster.

By scoring a double in the grand-final qualifier against Brisbane, the 28-year-old broke the club’s record for most tries in a season, crossing for his 24th four-pointer of the campaign.

“He stood out as one of the best wingers in the competition, if not the best,” Webster said of Watene-Zelezniak.

“His yardage carries were unbelievable, while the tries and the way he scored so many of them were the icing on the cake.”

A handful of high-profile Warriors remain out of contract at the end of 2024.

Tohu Harris and Shaun Johnson, both influential in 2023, will be 32 and 33 respectively by the time the new season begins and must determine whether they will play past next year.

Rising star Luke Metcalf, centre Rocco Berry and long-serving middle forward Jazz Tevaga are also without deals beyond 2024.

The Raiders continued their tradition of recruiting top-quality Englishmen by signing Smithies through 2026.

The 22-year-old has played 114 games for English powerhouse Wigan and started at lock in the recent Super League grand final defeat of Catalans.

He was also a member of the Wigan side that beat Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup final in 2022.

Smithies mostly plays through the middle but can line up on an edge, which could be valuable for a Raiders side likely to lose Elliott Whitehead to retirement in the near future.

Smithies joins Whitehead, Josh Hodgson, George Williams, Ryan Sutton and John Bateman in being plucked from England by Ricky Stuart’s Raiders in recent seasons.