Fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has today become one of the youngest captains in New Zealand rugby league history, after being named to lead the Kiwis in their Trans-Tasman Triple Header Test against the Kangaroos at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday (7.45pm kick-off).
The ascension to the captaincy is a triple celebration for the Hamilton-born Penrith Panthers star, who turned 23 on August 17.
It coincides with he and his wife Purdy’s third wedding anniversary while Watene-Zelezniak emulates the achievement of his great grandfather Tipene (Steve) Watene, one of New Zealand rugby league’s most revered figures. He was the first Maori to captain the Kiwis in 1936-1937 and the only person who has represented the New Zealand rugby league side and become a Member of Parliament.
“I was really humbled when Madge (Michael Maguire) offered me the chance to captain my country. It’s a huge honour, especially following in my great grandfather’s steps,” said Kiwi No 794 Watene-Zelezniak.
His first Test as captain will be the eighth of his career since debuting against the Kangaroos in Newcastle in 2016.
“Dallin lives the values we’re looking for and embodies the new direction we’re heading in with the Kiwis,” said Kiwi head coach Michael Maguire.
Of Maori heritage through his mother, Watene-Zelezniak is of Tongan and Polish extraction on his father’s side. With 96 NRL appearances across five seasons, he retains the fullback role he filled in the one-off Test against England in Denver in June.
The listed 17 includes two debutants in grand final-winning Sydney Roosters centre Joseph Manu and Melbourne’s Brandon Smith at hooker.
Tokoroa-raised 22-year-old Manu, 192cm and close to 100kg, made 26 NRL appearances this year, lifting his career tally to 45 with a try-scoring contribution in the Roosters’ 21-6 premiership victory over the Storm.
Smith (22), born on Waiheke Island near Auckland, was used off the bench in the grand final, his 18th NRL outing in 2018 and the 21st of a first-grade career which started last year.
Another of the squad’s new faces Melbourne utility back Jahrome Hughes is named in jersey No 19.
The Kiwis’ starting pack includes four players who appeared in the grand final with another two also in the 17, Manu in the centres and Kenny Bromwich, reunited in a Kiwi Test side with his elder brother Jesse, on the interchange.
In all 10 players who lined up in Denver are again selected – Watene-Zelezniak, winger Ken Maumalo (Warriors), centre Esan Marsters (Wests Tigers), halfback Kodi Nikorima (Brisbane), prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters), loose forward James Fisher-Harris and interchange forwards St George Illawarra’s Warriors-bound prop Leeson Ah Mau and fellow front rower Marty Taupau plus Sydney Rosters second rower Isaac Liu (who was in Denver but wasn’t selected); Peta Hiku (Warriors) is included on the extended bench in No 18 after being used in the centres against England.
Back in the Kiwis after missing the trip to Denver are winger Jordan Rapana (Canberra), playmaker Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors), front rower Jesse Bromwich – who joins the team tonight – second rower Kevin Proctor (Gold Coast) and Kenny Bromwich and Adam Blair (Warriors) on the bench; Blair was originally set to make the trip to the United States in June but was then suspended.
1 DALLIN WATENE-ZELEZNIAK (c) (Penrith Panthers)
2 KEN MAUMALO (Vodafone Warriors)
3 ESAN MARSTERS (Wests Tigers)
4 JOSEPH MANU (Sydney Roosters)
5 JORDAN RAPANA (Canberra Raiders)
6 SHAUN JOHNSON (Vodafone Warriors)
7 KODI NIKORIMA (Brisbane Broncos)
8 JESSE BROMWICH (Melbourne Storm)
9 BRANDON SMITH (Melbourne Storm)
10 JARED WAEREA-HARGREAVES (Sydney Roosters)
11 KEVIN PROCTOR (Gold Coast Titans)
12 ISAAC LIU (Sydney Roosters)
13 JAMES FISHER-HARRIS (Penrith Panthers)
14 KENNY BROMWICH (Melbourne Storm)
15 LEESON AH MAU (St George Illawarra Dragons)
16 MARTIN TAUPAU (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles)
17 ADAM BLAIR (Vodafone Warriors)
18 PETA HIKU (Vodafone Warriors)
19 JAHROME HUGHES (Melbourne Storm)
HEAD COACH | MICHAEL MAGUIRE