Fire still burns for ‘Honey Bill’
After 16 years of playing at the highest level – in both league and rugby – Honey Hireme initially went into this season thinking it would be her last.
But as she prepares to lead the Kiwi Ferns against Australia today alongside co-captain Laura Mariu, it appears Hireme has had a change of heart.
Who would blame her? The 37-year-old centre, who has represented New Zealand at World Cups in league, rugby and sevens, has shown so signs of slowing down on the field.
After topping the try-scoring charts at last year’s Rugby League World Cup, ‘Honey Bill’ had an impressive stint for St George Illawarra in the inaugural NRL women’s premiership last month.
And with the women’s game going from strength to strength thanks to that tournament, Hireme is keen to remain involved.
‘‘To be honest I thought after the NRL I was going to hang up the boots. But just being a part of it all, I’ve still got that fire in me,’’ she told Stuff.
‘‘I’m keen to stick around as long as the body’s willing to follow. Mentally and physically I’m feeling really good and I’m just going to take it year by year as I get closer to 40.’’
When the NRLW was announced most assumed Hireme would turn out for the Warriors.
Instead, she decided to leave her comfort zone and test herself in a new environment at the Dragons.
Hireme is one of several Kiwi Ferns who played for Australian clubs, including four at the premiership-winning Brisbane Broncos.
She believes those experiences have provided a big boost in their bid to avenge last year’s World Cup final defeat to the Jillaroos, which still burns for Hireme and the remaining 10 players from that game.
‘‘Just being able to take on board some of the things they do well, getting to know some of these Jillaroos girls and their strengths and weaknesses, that’s all going to help us on Saturday,’’ she said.
The entire squad has benefited from having high-quality games in the lead-up to the test, Hireme added, which has not always been the case in previous years.
‘‘We’ve all come off the back of the women’s NRL competition and you can already feel that the standards have lifted in terms of the girls’ professionalism and skill level. They were tough games so physically we’re all very well conditioned.
‘‘We’ve got an awesome coaching staff that have put together a really great game plan for us. So I think you’re going to see a bit of variety this week. We’re looking to play some really good spectator footy and use all of our strengths across the field.’’
Part of the triple header at Mt Smart Stadium against Australia involving the men’s side and Junior Kiwis, it’s the first time the Kiwi Ferns have played on home soil since 2010.
It’s a big occasion for the Kelvin Wright-coached side, who have relished having recently retired Kiwi and Warriors legend Simon Mannering helping them prepare.
Mannering’s official role is team trainer but Hireme says he has been chipping in across the board, from running the water at training and passing on leadership advice to driving the team van.
‘‘I don’t think he realises how in awe we all are of him being a part of our group and he’s so genuine about it,’’ she said.
‘‘He’s giving us all these little tips at training, driving our van, giving us water bottles – he’s just getting the job done.’’
Kiwi Ferns co-captain Honey Hireme is looking to continue her impressive form against the Jillaroos today.