Fire still burns for ‘Honey Bill’

The Southland Times - - Sport - Marvin France

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.’’

GETTY IM­AGES

Kiwi Ferns co-cap­tain Honey Hireme is look­ing to con­tinue her im­pres­sive form against the Jil­la­roos to­day.

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