Nines pathway to World Cup berth
The first time the Kiwi Ferns took the field as part of the NRL Auckland Nines back in 2015, veteran international Honey Hireme literally couldn't bring herself to watch it.
After lining up for the national side since 2002, Hireme was restricted from taking part in the historic occasion due to commitments with the New Zealand women's rugby sevens team.
"The first year the girls played I was personally quite gutted that I couldn’t be a part of that due to rugby commitments," Hireme told NRL.com after being named in the final New Zealand squad for the three-match Downer NRL Auckland Nines series against the Jillaroos.
"I struggled to watch it, I got tickets and actually refused to go because I wasn't playing.
"I couldn't play again last year for the same reasons, but I watched the girls and it was just amazing, I sort of knew straight away and thought 'man, there is no way I am missing this next year, I have to play in it'.
"When I knew I would be able to give it a crack this year because I was retiring from the sevens, then it became my top goal for this season."
The appearance for the defending champions on February 4-5 at Eden Park will end a two-year international league absence for 35-year-old Hireme, who has also represented New Zealand at both the 2013 Rugby Sevens World Cup and 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup.
After playing only a handful of club league games over the past two seasons, Hireme is back for good and now has her eyes firmly set on playing in her fourth Women's Rugby League World Cup at the end of the year.
"League has always been my first love, and once I decided to take retirement from the sevens I always planned to return to league and finish my career playing this game," she said.
"I had a few games of league here and there, but the whole of last year I only got one game, it was a run for the Waikato Maori Women's team and it made me realise how much I missed it.
"Knowing that it was a World Cup year this year made me really keen to come back as well.
"The coaches have indicated to me that it is a good thing I have put my hand up for the Nines and hopefully it can be a pathway into the World Cup squad.
"The World Cup is what I am really aiming for… it would be really nice to win the trophy back after losing it to Australia in 2013."
The Kiwi Ferns' squad for the Nines includes only eight of the 16 players who helped them to a 2-1 series win in 2016, while four players will be making their international debut at the two-day tournament.