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The ascension to the captaincy is a triple celebration for the Hamilton-born Penrith Panthers star, who turned 23 in August.
His appointment 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 (Kiwi head coach 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 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," Maguire said.
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 17-man squad 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.
Kiwis team to play Kangaroos at Mt Smart Stadium, Saturday, 7.45pm
1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (c), 2. Ken Maumalo, 3. Esan Marsters, 4. Joseph Manu, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Shaun Johnson, 7. Kodi Nikorima, 8. Jesse Bromwich, 9. Brandon Smith, 10. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 11. Kevin Proctor, 12. Isaac Liu, 13. James Fisher-Harris
Interchange: 14. Kenny Bromwich, 15. Leeson Ah Mau, 16. Martin Taupau, 17. Adam Blair, 18 Peta Hiku, 19. Jahrome Hughes