Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has guaranteed Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will return to the NRL after undergoing season-ending surgery on his collapsed lung.
The Penrith winger was hospitalised for the second time in three weeks on Friday after again showing signs primary spontaneous pneumothorax – a genetic condition that results in the accumulation of air in the space between the lung and chest cavity.
Watene-Zelezniak had only just returned to training after suffering a relapse of the condition due to a knock he copped in a match against the Sydney Roosters in round 18.
But the 19-year-old complained of a shortness of breath after a midweek training session, immediately concerning the club’s medical staff.
“He had a bit of shortness of breath, so he had another scan. It showed it was similarly deflated as the first time,” Cleary said on Saturday.
Cleary denied Watene-Zelezniak’s latest setback was another collapsed lung, but merely further complications from his recent injury.
“The chances are he was going to have (surgery) anyway at the end of this year. The reports are that he’ll be alright. Once they do that, then he should be right and in the clear,” he said.
It’s been yet another trying week for the 12th-placed Panthers, who also lost skipper Peter Wallace (ACL) and centre Dean Whare (thumb) to season-ending injuries, and must win against the Rabbitohs to keep their faint finals hopes alive.
Prop Nigel Plum has been rested due to concussion, while wingers Josh Mansour (knee) and David Simmons (hamstring), and back-up playmaker Isaac John have been inserted into the line-up.
The defending premiers have been buoyed by the return of second-rower Kyle Turner, who plays his first game of the year after breaking his neck in the Indigenous All Stars game in February.
Forward Ben Lowe is out with a bicep injury.
STATS THAT MATTER
*Souths average over 32 points per game at ANZ Stadium against Penrith.
*Greg Inglis will make his 100th appearance for South Sydney this week.
*Penrith have scored the fewest first half points this season, and have also been outscored 68-16 in the opening 20 minutes of their past eight matches.