‘Worst year since I was four’: Inside DWZ’s 2020 struggle
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has revealed how the emotional toll of last season pushed him into a depressed state where he was left "spiralling down" and questioning why he was even playing rugby league.
In an extraordinary self-appraisal of his 2020 year, the Bulldogs star at a low point confided to himself: "Man, what am I doing?', 'What am I doing wrong?', 'I can't seem to figure it out'…I had no answers."
"It was the worst year I've ever had football-wise since I was four years old," he said.
The captain of this year's Maori All Stars side has now dedicated this season to "earning back some respect".
"Let's just say 'last year never happened'," Watene-Zelezniak, 25, said.
"I felt like I was letting people down.
"And the more I thought about it, the more I kept spiralling down. I want to forget about last year and earn my respect back. Last year, that's not how I want to be known.
"It was kind of depressing, especially when people are relying on you to create things. For senior guys in teams, it comes back on them.
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"You get those questions: 'Why I am playing?' You get really negative. Then you think: 'I can't do this, I can't do this'. I was really, really bad last year. It was the worst year I've ever had football-wise since I was four years old.
"I had thoughts: 'Man, what am I doing?', 'What am I doing wrong?', 'I can't seem to figure it out'… I had no answers. Hopefully I can just forget last year. That's not how I want to play football - it's not the reason why I chose to play football as a kid."
Watene-Zelezniak's individual performances mirrored the Bulldogs' battles as they won just three of 20 games last season.
Watene-Zelezniak started the season at fullback, then shifted to centre and wing while scoring just two tries from 18 matches.
The misery impacted on Watene-Zelezniak's mental state.
"It was hard to - how do I put it - find yourself when you're losing so much and you're not playing well. As I said, it was pretty depressing and I was finding it hard to play at my best. I was trying to play catch-up," he said.
"If there was something last year taught me, it was you can't live in the past and you can't focus on it otherwise you will keep spiralling down.
"When the team is relying on you and certain boys look up to you, I have been in a leadership role for the last few years now, and you're not playing your best, then that gets to me.
"Last year, without making excuses, globally everything was (unprecedented). It wasn't so much off the field that was bad, it was the performances I putting in each week - it was nowhere near my best.
"I was just trying to find my way back. I stripped it right back to my support network - my wife, kids, my family, my mum and dad are people I go to as well."
After a big off season under new coach Trent Barrett, Watene-Zelezniak has returned to Belmore fit, healthy and mentally fresh.
And his optimism has only increased after the club recruited Corey Allan, Nick Cotric and Kyle Flanagan.
"I haven't take any short cuts and I have put my best foot forward in pre-season to earn some respect back and get myself ready for the year so I don't have to try and play catch-up physically," he said.
"For me now, it's about the mental side of the game. If I can get my mental state right, getting my mind back to where it was a few years ago, then I should be sweet. It's probably been the toughest pre-season I have done. It's been long and I'm just happy football is back.
"The pre-season this year has given me confidence in myself and knowing that I've done some work to hopefully get back and play some good football."
Originally published as 'Worst year since I was four': Inside DWZ's 2020 struggle