Watene-Zelezniak spearheads depleted Warriors to win

George Clarke |

Standing in at fullback, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has inspired the Warriors to sink the Dolphins.
Standing in at fullback, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has inspired the Warriors to sink the Dolphins.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has inspired a depleted Warriors outfit to a come-from-behind win over the Dolphins, breathing life back into the Kiwi club’s NRL campaign.

Playing fullback for just the second time since leaving Canterbury in 2021, Watene-Zelezniak scored the match-turning try as the Warriors clinched a 24-20 win at Go Media Stadium in Auckland on Sunday.

The 28-year-old was forced to step into the No.1 jersey when Taine Tuaupiki pulled out of Andrew Webster’s side just before kick-off due to the impending birth of his child.

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad had earlier withdrawn with illness, meaning 10 regular Warriors players were absent for the visit of the Dolphins. 

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, captain Tohu Harris and halfback Shaun Johnson all remain in the club’s casualty ward.

“I’m so proud of them, the 17 that took the field were so tight and confident in each other,” Webster said.

“I thought a lot of our individuals played their best game and they did that together, and when you do that you’re hard to beat.” 

Powerhouse prop Addin Fonua-Blake was forced to sit out the match for disciplinary reasons after leaving the sheds early and missing his side’s victory song in last week’s win over Penrith.

Despite speculation Fonua-Blake could ask to leave the club ahead of his move to Cronulla next season, Webster was adamant the Tongan international remained committed to the Warriors. 

“Addin was amazing, took it on board and we moved on with it,” Webster said. 

“‘Adz’ has been clear he needs to be better, but neither him nor his agent have said he wants to leave and I’ll take them at their word.” 

There looked to be little chance of a repeat of hearing the club song in the opening 20 minutes on Sunday, as the Dolphins took an early lead. 

Things got off to the worst possible start for Webster’s men when Jamayne Isaako touched down in the corner after just four minutes and Warriors hooker Paul Roache went off with an ankle injury.

Soon after, Herbie Farnworth powered back against the grain, smashing through some paper-thin defence to strengthen the Dolphins’ position. 

Tries from Chanel Harris-Tavita and Te Maire Martin, either side of a trademark Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow finish, kept the Warriors in the game.

A try from Te Maire-Martin.
A try from Te Maire-Martin helped the Warriors beat the Dolphins in Auckland. (Andrew Cornaga/AAP PHOTOS)

Trailing 16-12 at halftime, the Warriors were made to fight for their win, with much of their hard work coming courtesy of stand-in skipper Mitch Barnett along with Watene-Zelezniak.

The Warriors fullback finished the afternoon with 202 metres from 20 runs and came up with the pivotal try, burrowing over in the 57th minute to give his side the lead.

Marata Niukore crossed to strengthen the Warriors’ grip on the game, and they were able to survive a nervy finish after a late Isaako try narrowed the scores.