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Watene-Zelezniak surpise new captain of the Kiwis

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has become one of the youngest captains in New Zealand rugby league history after being named to lead the Kiwis against Australia on Saturday.

The Penrith fullback was surprised to earn the honour in what will be just his eighth game for the Kiwis in Auckland.

The ascension to the captaincy is special for the Hamilton-born Penrith Panthers star, who is just 23.

"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 Watene-Zelezniak.

His great grandfather Tipene (Steve) Watene, is one of New Zealand rugby league's most revered figures.

He was the first Māori to captain the Kiwis in 1936-1937 and the only person who has represented the New Zealand side and become a Member of Parliament.

"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.

The 22-year-old Manu, 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, also 22, was used off the bench in the grand final, his 18th NRL outing in 2018.

Another of the squad's new faces Melbourne utility back Jahrome Hughes is named in jersey No 19.

In all - 10 players who lined up in Denver are again selected - Watene-Zelezniak, Warriors winger Ken Maumalo, 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; Peta Hiku (Warriors) is included on the extended bench in No 18.

Back in the Kiwis after missing the trip to Denver are winger Jordan Rapana (Canberra), playmaker Shaun Johnson (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.


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