Whitelock’s appointment as co-captain comes as a result of the 28-year-old’s distinguished professional career since debuting for Canterbury in 2011.
He has won an impressive six national titles in eight seasons, three of which he won as captain, while he has also gone on to amass 88 Super Rugby caps since first appearing for the Crusaders in 2012.
38 of those caps were earned while playing for the Highlanders following his transfer from Christchurch to Dunedin in 2016.
Whitelock made his test debut against Japan in 2013, but it wasn’t until a string of impressive Super Rugby and provincial performances four years later saw him return to the national set-up, where he captained the All Blacks against the French XV in just his second international outing.
The No. 8 has since played seven tests, captaining the All Blacks again against Japan last year.
His elevation to co-captain at Super Rugby level adds to his vast leadership experience through all levels of the game, which includes leading the Highlanders to victory over the British and Irish Lions in 2017.
That, along with his reputation as a gritty and punishingly accurate defender, should complement his case for World Cup selection at the end of this year.
“When I came down here in 2015, I just wanted to fit in and play good rugby, I never expected to be a co-captain,” Whitelock, who joins brother and Crusaders captain Sam as a Super Rugby skipper, said.
“When I think of some of the players who have captained this team in the past like Anton Oliver and Nasi Manu it’s pretty humbling to be given the opportunity.
“Ash and Ben have done a great job over the last few seasons and I hope to carry that on this year.”
Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger reserved praise for both of his captains.
“Luke and Ben demand selection for us through the consistency of their performances week to week,” he said.
“Both players have a great temperament for the game and provide us leadership on and off the field.
“Having Lukey up front and Bender at the back provides us with a good balance of leadership on the park.”
Whitelock replaces hooker Ash Dixon as co-captain of the squad.
Dixon’s axing from the role is indicative of his ongoing struggle to maintain a starting position in the team, with four-test All Black Liam Coltman often the preferred option at hooker.
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