Panthers fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has been announced as the new captain for New Zealand team by coach Michael Maguire.
Watene-Zelezniak will become Simon Mannering’s successor after he annoucned his retirement and the injury to Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
The decision came about after a conversation had between Maguire and Watene-Zelezniak during the Denver test match earlier this year.
When the captaincy was still available ahead of the Kiwis clash with Australia on Saturday, it was clear the 23-year old would get the nod.
Speaking to media earlier, Maguire said he was impressed by the way Watene-Zelezniak presents himself.
“He really impressed me with the way he handled himself,” Maguire said.
“When I first mentioned it to the team they all said ‘yes’ straight away so I think that says a lot about where Dallin sits in the group.”
This decision comes off the back of a new era of youth dawning upon the Kiwis, with Maguire focusing on the future rather than choosing between the experienced Jesse Bromwich, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves or Kevin Proctor for captain.
Maguire said it looks likely Watene-Zelezniak will retain the captaincy for many years.
“At the moment it’s where we’re going, he’ll be a big leader with this team for a long time to come,” Maguire said.
It’s a special achievement for Watene-Zelezniak and his family, with great-grandfather Steve Watene being one of New Zealand’s greatest rugby league players.
Steve Watene represented the Kiwis in the 1930s and was the first Maori to captain his country, also in the fullback position.
He later became an NZRL Legend of League in 2008 as well as having the NZRL player of the year award named after him.
Watene-Zelezniak told the media it is an honour to follow in his great-grandfather’s footsteps.
“I’m very grateful and privileged to be able to lead this team and I’ll be doing every anything I can to lead with my actions on and off the field,” Watene-Zelezniak said.
“I have values in my life that I go by and lead my family by.
“My great grandfather was privileged enough to captain the Kiwis from fullback as well.
“It’s a bit bigger than me, it’s bigger for my family, I’m a massive family person. To be able top lead these boys out and to do that is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The Kiwis will take on the Australian Kangaroos at Mt Smart Stadium this Saturday.