Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is an inspired choice as new Kiwis captain as the national side continues to rebuild following the dramas and disappointments of the last 18 months.

The 23-year-old Hamilton-born Penrith fullback ticks all the right boxes to help lead New Zealand back to the top of the international game starting with Saturday's transtasman test against Australia at Mt Smart Stadium.

Coach Michael Maguire was somewhat limited in his options with injuries ruling several senior players out of the clash against the world champions and the Kiwis' end of year tour of England, but Watene-Zelezniak has the talent, character, and clean-skin reputation befitting of the national team's leader.

Those last three traits in particular played a big part in Maguire's decision to appoint Watene-Zelezniak as skipper, after a run of run of off-field scandals and poor performances left the team's reputation in tatters.


In following his great grandfather - Tipene Watene, the first Maori to captain the Kiwis (1936-1937) – into the captaincy role, 'DWZ's' elevation also helps to reconnect the Kiwis with the team's proud past.

Maguire may have been tempted to reappoint one of the side's former captains in recalled front-rower Jesse Bromwich or bench forward Adam Blair, but both options would have drawn criticism and been viewed as a step backwards.

The politics around Bromwich reclaiming the captaincy in his first test back after being sacked for using cocaine after last year's Anzac test loss would have been another PR disaster, while public confidence in the Kiwis plummeted after Blair led the side to a shock quarter-final exit at last year's World Cup.

Maguire may also have considered the leadership credentials of mercurial playmaker Shaun Johnson, but wisely chose to leave him to worry about his own game, while also shedding him of the burden of playing with the No 7 on his back and moving him to five-eighth.

Watene-Zelezniak can be relied on to offer thrust on kick returns and strong communication in organising the defence, but his biggest influence on teammates is likely to be in setting standards at training and in terms of off-field behaviour.

Having played just seven tests since his debut in 2016, Watene-Zelezniak will be well supported by other senior players, and halves Kodi Nikorima and Johnson will handle much of the on-field organising.

Ironically, his selection at fullback and promotion to team leader may not have eventuated had Warriors captain and Dally M Medal winner Roger Tuivasa-Sheck not suffered a season-ending knee injury last month.

However, Watene-Zelezniak is renowned for having the same professional approach and dedication to match preparation as Tuivasa-Sheck. The pair also shares similarly quiet and level-headed personalities and are known as all-round good guys.

Maguire hinted strength of character would be integral to his decision, when he told the Herald earlier this week that he would confer with the side's more experienced players about "expectations and things we believe what the captain should look like".

He may not be what many were picturing, but let's hope Watene-Zelezniak can help the Kiwis spring further surprises as they look to end a three-game losing run and claim their first win over Australia since 2015.