Rugby league: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak won't play for NZ Kiwis in 2023 as winger mulls Tonga switch

NZ Kiwis will not have the services of former captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak for the upcoming international season, as he weighs up a change in international allegiance to Tonga.

The NZ Warriors winger is coming off the back of a career-best NRL season, where he scored 24 tries in 20 games, as the Kiwi club reached the preliminary final.

But as the international season approaches, with the Kiwis to face Australia and Samoa, NZ Rugby League chief executive Greg Peters has confirmed to Newshub that Watene-Zelezniak will play no part.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. Photo credit: Getty Images

At present, there are two options on the table for Watene-Zelezniak, who was named as the Dally M winger of the year for the 2023 NRL season.

The first would mean minor surgery, ruling Watene-Zelezniak out of action for the Pacific Rugby League Championship, beginning later this month, in the hope of returning to full fitness to participate in the Warriors' pre-season training.

The second would keep Watene-Zelezniak on the field, albeit in the red of Mate Ma'a Tonga, as opposed to the black of New Zealand.

Peters confirmed to Newshub that both options are viable this year, with the decision entirely Watene-Zelezniak's to make.  

Watene-Zelezniak is eligibile for Tonga through his grandmother, despite already having played 13 tests for the Kiwis.

Peters also told Newshub Watene-Zelezniak's switch - if and when it eventuates - comes with the full blessing of NZ Rugby League.  

"He's a wonderful bloke," he said. "That's one of the wonderful things about rugby league.

"Players will make their decisions, factoring in their family links, culture and things they should be considering.

"Dallin is at that stage where he wants to pursue that, and we respect that."

Any defection to Tonga would be a blow for the Kiwis, at the same time as being a huge boost to the Pacific side.

In 2018, the winger was named as New Zealand captain for their end of year tour to England, where the Kiwis fell to a 2-1 series defeat. Watene-Zelezniak played all three tests, scoring two tries.  

Watene-Zelezniak's heritage with the Kiwis also runs deep, with his great grandfather Steve Watene also having served as New Zealand captain.  

Newshub understands the Kiwis' squad for the Pacific Rugby League Championship will be named later this week.