A Lachlan Maranta hat-trick wasn't enough for the Canterbury Cup Dragons in their clash against the Penrith Panthers, losing 26-24 to the Penrith Panthers on Saturday afternoon.
The game came to a neck and neck finish in the last five minutes with the Dragons fighting their way back from a 12-point deficit in the second-half but were unable to capitalise on their chances in the dying stages.
Watene-Zelezniak crossed for an early double to get the Panthers off to a flying start while opposing winger Lachlan Maranta crossed for a hat-trick of tries in a starring performance in a losing side.
But it would be another winger, Brian Too, who gave the Panthers an early lead after he was on the receiving end of a classy offload from centre Mattheson Johns in just the fourth minute of play.
The Dragons, who had injured skipper Darren Nicholls acting as Team Manager on the sidelines, were playing with plenty of confidence in the opening exchanges but lacked the finishing touches in the absence of their halfback.
Watene-Zelezniak gave an athletic finish for his first try just eight minutes after Too's effort before Maranta responded with two tries in quick succession to set a 10-8 scoreline.
Both were courtesy of Jai Field magic with two bullet left-to-right passes from the dynamic five-eighth sending Maranta over within the mere space of seven minutes.
Some exciting second-phase play gave Watene-Zelezniak his second try in the 33rd minute following a Caleb Aekins grubber as the Panthers held onto a slim 14-8 advantage at half-time.
A try to Luai six minutes after half-time gave the Panthers some breathing space with a 12-point lead, but just when another try loomed, Dragons winger Jonus Pearson latched onto a Liam Coleman cut-out pass before racing 80m to score.
A wave of momentum was behind the Dragons and they took full advantage through Charly Runciman, after the back-rower burst through from close-range to set a 20-all scoreline.
A try to Paea Pua broke the deadlock with just under 20 minutes remaining in the game, and although Maranta's third try set up a thrilling finish they were unable to snatch an unlikely victory.