Family, Faith & Football
Dallin Watene-Zelesniak and Halauafu Lavaka of the U18's Penrith Panthers squad are reaping the fruits of their labours on and off the field by balancing family, faith and football. Both young men of Minchinbury and Fairfield 1st Ward respectively, are on the rise in their respective Rugby League careers, but attribute their success to their family and faith in Jesus Christ. They are in their senior years of secondary school at the prestigious Rugby League nursery, Patrician Brothers College Blacktown, playing at the junior representative level and actively engaged in the programmes of the Church.
Dallin and Uafu feel the underlying support from their families have been the backbone of their careers. Uafu only became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February last year, and sees his Dad as his role model. ‘My Dad is a humble , soft spoken man. He has always been really supportive in my choices growing up. But perhaps the highlight was when I decided to be baptised last year. He really softened his heart’. Dallin also adds, ‘the example of my parents and my siblings across different areas has really helped. Seeing how hard they are working, noticing their spirituality with my brother serving a mission, and also seeing my other brother excel in footy is a great example to me’.
In a sporting environment which may not usually associate spirituality with the successes of sport, Dallin and Uafu have embraced the integration of both institutions by doing the gospel basics. ‘Reading the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon and praying everyday is important. Also, seminary is the thing that has helped me really grow spiritually. By waking up early and attending regularly, my testimony has grown heaps. Young Men’s also helps me choose to be in the right environments’. ‘When blessings come, I feel it’s important to sit down and ponder about it. To me, football is not just about the physical side, but also the spiritual side as well. You need to balance it so it’s equal’, Uafu adds.
This balancing act, has not come about from instant success, but from years of strong work ethic and surrounding themselves with good people. Dallin rates meeting and speaking with William Hopoate late last year, as an inspiring time in his church and football journey. Uafu is also fortunate to have priesthood leadership in his ward that can empathise with how the successes of Rugby League and the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are interrelated. Bishop Tevita Amone, former West Tigers, and North Queensland Cowboys first grader, encourages his youth when considering their future careers to always keep in mind an important gospel principle. ‘A scripture that has always been my motivation is 3 Nephi 13:33, which says to put God first and our desires according to God’s will be added unto us’.
Playing a sporting code at a high level is a great blessing, especially when they enjoy doing what they do. Uafu stated, ‘Having the opportunity to be an example to our non member team mates is cool’. Dallin points out, ‘I feel keeping the word of wisdom really helps because we are playing at a good level. Our whole team knows we‘re Mormons. At first they were unsure of our exact beliefs, but now they have a fair idea’. These gospel standards have translated onto the structures and support networks given by the Penrith Panthers. Frank Puletua, the Penrith Panther’s Education and Welfare Coordinator for players of Pacific Island and Maori heritage, stated, ‘Religion is such a large component in many communities, therefore it is vital in educating not only the players about the resources and services that are available from within the Panthers, but also the club about the players and their cultural and religious backgrounds. The club’s position has shifted to a very proactive approach in providing key support in personal development and growth. One of the major focus areas for my role is to create programs and education pathways that formulate a balance between football life, working life and family’.
Recently, the Penrith Panther’s U18 squad narrowly lost the semi final of the 2012 SG Ball Competition run by the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL). Dallin won the team’s most outstanding player of the year award, a wonderful achievement considering he is one of the youngest players in the squad, and has another year to play in the U18 competition. Uafu was also rewarded for his efforts by being one of the few earning a call up to train with the U20’s Toyota Cup squad. The accolades do not end there, with both Uafu and Dallin recently being selected in the NSW Combined Catholic Colleges (NSWCCC) team. This prestigious honour has given them the opportunity to trial at the Australian Schoolboy Championships in early July.