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This week’s Phil Gilbert Key Match-Up takes on a special feel as brothers and former teammates Malakai and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak go head-to-head on the wing.

In what’s sure to be a special week for the Watene-Zelezniak family, the brothers will square off for the first time in their careers, and will be directly marking up against each other as Wests Tigers travel to Pepper Stadium to take on the Penrith Panthers.

It’s certainly been a rollercoaster of a year for the Watene-Zelezniak brothers and, in particular Malakai, who made his first-grade debut alongside Dallin earlier this year at Penrith when they took on the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Fast forward a few weeks and the versatile outside back had secured a mid-season switch to Wests Tigers with the hope of playing more first-grade — an opportunity he’s taken with both hands.

While Dallin’s reputation as a quality winger with international experience is well known, Malakai has shown his talents throughout the year — cementing himself in Wests Tigers side over the back half of the season and improving with every game.

The 25-year-old has crossed for four tries in his last six games, with four-pointers in Wests Tigers recent victories over the Newcastle Knights and Gold Coast Titans.

After a slow start to the season as he worked his way back from a knee injury, Dallin is starting to pick up where he left off in 2016 with a solid run of form himself.

The Panthers’ flyer has crossed for three tries in his last four games — all of which have been victories — and his combination on the right with young playmakers Nathan Cleary and Dylan Edwards looks to be improving every time they take the field.

Despite a career-best season in 2016 with 12 tries, Dallin was kept try-less in his two games against Wests Tigers, and will be keen to end that run this Sunday afternoon.

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There’s no surprise to see Dallin’s attacking numbers are higher than his brother, with the 21-year-old featuring in more games than Malakai this season. In the past month, however, both players have crossed for three tries. What is interesting to note is that while Malakai’s overall attacking numbers might be down on Dallin’s, his defensive numbers are much higher — despite playing less games. Malakai’s tackle success rate sits above 83 percent for the season while Dallin’s is almost 10 percent lower with double the missed tackles of his brother. Similarly on the error count — Malakai has made just five errors this year while Dallin has recorded 20, five of which came in last week’s gritty victory over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.



Obviously it’s the first time they pair will come up against each other, having played once before together in Malakai’s debut game earlier this year. Dallin has played three times against Wests Tigers for two wins and a loss, although one of those wins (in which he scored a try), the then 19-year-old played at fullback in a 35-12 victory.



“I’ve been very excited about this week. To be on the same field as my brother, even if we are opposition, it’s always a good thing and the both of us are looking forward to each other. Growing up, playing in the backyard and watching NRL, we always dreamed of playing NRL and being able to play with him is a massive dream come true. Our family is really close with lots of family events and family dinners, and I think everyone is behind the both of us so it should be a really good day.” — Malakai Watene-Zelezniak



“It’s going to be interesting because we haven’t played each other since the backyard. It’s going to be a fun night for our family and for the both of us. We’ve always been the type to want to play together — we got that chance earlier in the year — and it’ll be weird to run out against him. But I’m sure we’re both going to give it our best to give it to each other and we’ll always be brothers so it’ll be a good one. He’s my older brother and I’ve always looked up to him so it’ll definitely be a strange feeling.”  — Dallin Watene-Zelezniak


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