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'When he left I was gutted': DWZ welcomes Cleary return

Talk surrounding Ivan Cleary's return to Penrith has centred on coaching his son Nathan into the future but Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is just as chuffed to welcome his former mentor home.

Cleary's bond with many of the current squad at Penrith is undeniable with the club's local juniors coming through the system during his first stint at the club.

"When he left I was gutted," Watene-Zelezniak told

"He developed me for two years and my career excelled under him. It's going to be awesome having him back and try to better my game further.

"I'm happy as for the club that everything has fallen into place for his return, it is what it is. Football is a harsh sport and everything happens for a reason."

Watene-Zelezniak missed the final two months of the 2015 season under Cleary with a genetic health condition that caused a collapsed lung for the second time in 18 months.

The 23-year-old was sidelined indefinitely and like most of his Penrith teammates at the time, was caught off guard by Cleary's sacking at the club a fortnight after the NRL grand final.

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With two children of his own, Watene-Zelezniak said he would jump at any opportunity to coach them at an elite level and suggested it was a no-brainer for Ivan to do everything possible to work alongside Nathan.

"I'd know what brings the best out of my son and he'd bring the best out of me," Watene-Zelezniak said.

"I wouldn't hesitate doing the same. My loyalty lies with my son and as a father all you want is to share moments with your children.

"No doubt Ivan is going to be a father and really good coach to Nathan and all of us. Nathan's very lucky to have his father now as a coach and they'll get the best out of each other next season."

Watene-Zelezniak joined Kiwis teammates Shaun Johnson, Brandon Smith, Agnatius Paasi and coach Michael Maguire at Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool on Tuesday morning as part of their three-Test tour of the UK.

Players exchanged cards with the young patients before posing for photographs.

"Having two kids myself it puts life into perspective for always being grateful for what we have," Watene-Zelezniak said.

"As a father that's all you want is for your kids to be happy, healthy and strong. It doesn't matter where I am in the world, I love doing hospital visits."

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The Kiwis finished the day with a closed session at Liverpool FC's training base to prepare for Sunday's clash with England at Anfield.

"The facilities they have is ridiculous, makes Penrith look like a little shoe box," Watene-Zelezniak joked.

"The academy at Penrith is just as good but they have a lot of money over here, Liverpool's is huge."

Watene-Zelezniak said the players were disappointed they allowed external noise to creep into their opening game at Hull last week and were out to make amends.

"We got caught up in everything they did or what the ref was going to say," he said.

"We've got a bit of work to do in that area and focus on our structures by actually sticking with them. We went away from anything we wanted to do.

"I did things that were so different to the games in Australia, it was a massive learning curve as captain."


Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.