Michael Maguire 'discovered' the latest Kiwis captain while sitting on a bus in Denver.

The appointment of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak on Tuesday, ahead of several other more experienced contenders, was a left field choice, and some fans might still be scratching their heads this morning.

By any measure, the Penrith winger is a bolter for the armband.

He has only just turned 23, has seven tests to his name and limited captaincy experience through the Junior grades.

Advertisement

But he's a special talent, and this wasn't an overnight decision, but rather one that had its genesis on the Kiwis' controversial trip to Colorado to play England.

Maguire took that time to get to know the players, and Watene-Zelezniak stood out.

"Once I thought about where I wanted to go with the captaincy – and that was with youth – Dallin fitted where I wanted to go," said Maguire. "I probably had that thought when I was over in Denver believe it or not…with one of the first conversations I had with him."

"I remember sitting with him on the bus in Denver, talking about characteristics in teams and people. That was probably the time when I started to realise I had a great character here."

Maguire mulled over several options, but made up his mind a month ago and Watene-Zelezniak fitted the bill once Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was ruled out through injury.

Watene-Zelezniak is a naturally confident character – evident since he first broke into the NRL as a teenager – but was taken aback when Maguire offered him the job two weeks ago.

"I spoke to Dallin on the phone, there was a little bit of silence there," said Maguire. "I'm not quite sure he believed what I was saying at the time. But when it sunk it he was very honoured and you could hear that in his voice."

"I went quiet," admitted Watene-Zelezniak. "Then I looked over at my wife and said 'did he just say what I think he said'. My wife said `yeah'. He gave me a night to sleep on it, talk to my wife and family, think about it. I said yes. It's come early though…I was expecting when I was 30 or 31 I would get a game [as captain] here or there."

Watene-Zelezniak's ascension is extra special, as he follows in the footsteps of his great- grandfather Tipene (Steve) Watene, who is a revered figure in New Zealand league history.

Watene was the first Maori to captain the national side (in 1936-1937) and remains the only Kiwis player to become an Member of Parliament.

"I think he is smiling down at me at the moment," said Watene-Zelezniak. "He had a part in this and I am very privileged to carry his blood inside me and represent him. I didn't get to meet him but I hear a lot of stories that my Aunties and Uncles and Nana shared. He led on and off the field and that is something I would love to do as well."

Maguire confirmed that Jesse Bromwich would be part of the leadership group supporting Watene-Zelezniak, but it's unlikely he was considered as a contender for skipper, given the Canberra cocaine incident in 2017 and Maguire's desire to focus on youth.

The Kiwis' 17 includes two debutants, in Roosters centre Joseph Manu and Melbourne hooker Brandon Smith, and six players who featured in the grand final, as Maguire rewards end of season form.

In all 10 players who lined up in Denver have been chosen again, while Jordan Rapana, Shaun Johnson, Kevin Proctor, Adam Blair and the Bromwich brothers return to the squad after missing the North America trip.