Tuesday, May 21

The curious case of DWZ – and why the warriors should offer him a new contract – just at half the price

By all accounts, winger/ fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is enjoying himself at the Warriors and has found a home there. So, when the time comes, I hope the Warriors offer him a contract extension. I just hope that don’t pay overs for his perceived experience, given they aren’t seeing the benefits of it in their results. 

Let me explain.

Commonly known as DWZ, Dallin was born the same year that the Warriors entered the NRL, 1995. Of his 170 NRL appearances, he’s played on the winning side 67 times, losing 103 games. Debuting with Penrith, he played six seasons at the foot of the mountains and in 2019, was let go by Ivan Cleary.  Despite DWZ’s claims that he had lost his passion for the game and needed a fresh start, it should now be seen as a red flag if a player is let go by the likes of Cleary, for any reason other than the salary cap pressure.

Dallin shifted to the Canterbury Bulldogs where he was quoted to have rediscovered his lost passion, yet in his last two of three seasons at the Bulldogs, he played 27 games winning only 3 times. 0 from 9 in his last season there. 

And yet somehow, the Warriors saw potential. 

At Penrith, his winning percentage was 50%. At the Bulldogs, it halved to 24%. Since joining the Warriors, Dallin’s winning percentage is 14% (11% in 2022). 

I appreciate a team is never defined by one player. Though it is worth acknowledging that a single player can often lift a side – I’m looking at you, Reuben Wiki. 

The positives: at 27 years old, DWZ’s still got some pace left, though he’s not as explosive and elusive as it once was. His diving finishes in the corner are exceptional and there’s not too many better exponents of this feature in the game. 

He’s accumulated 170 games of experience. By all accounts so far, he appears to be a good person and ambassador for the club. He may very well be one of those players like Jazz Tevaga (see last week’s piece), who offers those off-the field intangible qualities that ultimately contribute to a side’s effort on the field. It is worth noting he was the only Warrior selected in Michael Maguire’s Kiwis World Cup side, in 2022.

The negatives: despite his average size and weight as a winger, DWZ is generally a 50/50 chance under the high ball, where teams will often target him. I for one am never confident when I see a cross-kick in his direction.  

DWZ’s a wily player, but his flashes of brilliance often come down to the bounce of the ball going his way more than his ability to slip through defences. His kick return metres are poor, particularly post-contact metres in comparison to other wingers in the NRL. 

While he carries the ball hard, he’s usually hit harder. He doesn’t any longer seem to have the power or pace to bend defensive lines let alone break them open. 

And he’s expensive: for a player that isn’t contributing enough to the outcomes of games, DWZ takes up a good slice of the Warriors salary cap. That wasn’t too much of an issue when the Bulldogs were covering a large portion of it. But that won’t be the case in 2023 and 2024. It should also be acknowledged that if a club comes to you offering a player and is willing to cover a percentage of their salary, it should be another red flag that there’s other issues going on. Because what the Bulldogs are effectively saying is, they would rather pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for DWZ to play against them.

While he might not look it, DWZ stands 6’1 tall and weighs in at a useful 97kg. You wouldn’t think so by the way he gets stopped in his tracks in tackles. His kick return meters gained were very high at Penrith but have dipped significantly since joining the Bulldogs and Warriors. His average running metres for the Warriors in 2022 were the lowest in his career. It’s unclear why DWZ left the Bulldogs, other than poor form and the incoming recruits that included Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton putting pressure on his likely inclusion in the side, the following season. 

So, as you can see, the negatives seem to be significantly outweighing the positives in terms of perceived performance on the pitch. 

DWZ has somewhat flown under the radar at the Warriors because he’s been surrounded by other big names that have struggled, like Johnson and Walsh, or lesser names who had the odd shocker, like Kosi, Pompey or Berry. Attention hasn’t really been channelled in his direction. He hasn’t done enough to discourage the fanbase, but in the same turn, hasn’t done enough to excite it. Yet given his price tag, you would expect him to have a bigger impact and influence, or at least make the starting side fairly easily. And yet… 

Despite one forgettable game against the Storm that was akin to that of Manu Vatuvei’s humiliating 2007 experience against the Paramatta Eels, Edward Kosi had a solid 2022, and his first game of 2023 has left most feeling confident that he’s a contender to hold down the right wing moving forward. 

By the time Dallin returns from his recent injury, there’s a good chance Kosi will continue to improve and be placing enough pressure on Coach Webster to question Dallin’s inclusion in the side. Marcello Montoya’s form this year has been rock solid and he always gives one hundred percent. Pompey, Berry and Vilea can all play on the wing and I’d prefer either of them over Dallin under the high ball. And frankly, are decent wingers really that hard to come by in New Zealand? 

With the exception of Xavier Coates, when you look to teams like the Storm, they rarely spend big money on wingers. In fact, outside of Josh Addo-Carr, it’s usually their wingers profiting from the teams performances and taking bigger salaries at other clubs, despite their actual ability. 

Bellamy seems to know the value of positions and the Storm pay accordingly. They pay for finishers, not for wingers smashing players with big defensive hits, or gaining high post-contact metres when returning the ball. They don’t pay for players who are appealing to the marketing department. 

Wingers don’t usually win games. They finish plays that are created by those that do win games. The Warriors have a finisher in Dallin, but does he offer enough outside of that to justify his price tag? The 18th Man says, probably not. So come contract time, if Dallin is expecting to negotiate a similar salary to what he’s been receiving, the Warriors should have the courage to let him find yet another home where he can make yet another fresh start and re-find his passion again (or whatever eye-rolling PR excuse he conjures up) and invest that money into their depleted propping stocks. 

Disclaimer – THE 18th MAN has no links to the Warriors players, owner or staff. The opinions expressed are that of an independent observer of games and club generated media.