Kunst begins final season with Jillaroos honour
Decorated Australian representative Renae Kunst will lead the Jillaroos onto the field for the first time at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines on Saturday in what she has declared will be her final season in the game.
Kunst is a member of a three-person Jillaroos leadership group for the three-match series against the Kiwi Ferns at Eden Park this weekend with Sam Bremner and Karina Brown also to be given the honour of leading the team out in front of the raucous Kiwi crowd.
A member of the Jillaroos team that won the World Cup in 2013 and which provided the catalyst for greater exposure and opportunities for the women's game, Kunst will hang up her boots at the completion of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, hopefully in the final at Suncorp Stadium which will be played prior to the men's final on December 2.
Recent Jillaroos captains Steph Hancock and Ruan Sims are both missing from the Jillaroos squad due to injury this weekend, opening the way for Kunst, Bremner and Brown to share the role, an honour Kunst says is "overwhelming".
"It's pretty special. It's a little bit overwhelming," Kunst told NRL.com.
"I'm not one for talking, I'm more likely to lead the way by example so looking forward to running the girls out there, whether it be myself, Karina or Sam.
"The Auckland Nines series has always been embraced and featured well over the weekend which has been fantastic. The game as a whole continues to go from strength to strength with regards to the rugby league community wanting to embrace the female side of the game, which is wonderful."
An NRL ambassador who lives and works in Mackay as a development officer, Kunst travels down to Brisbane each weekend to play in the Brisbane Metro competition, leaving behind 11-year-old daughter Isabella.
It is that willingness to be present for Isabella's own sporting pursuits that has convinced Kunst that a 2017 campaign that will also feature an All Stars appearance and mid-year Test is the right time to bring her playing career to an end.
"You never want to play one year too long and being 35 this year... I get emotional even thinking about it.
"I'm not thinking about it too much at the moment, I'm just treating every game as if it's my last anyway and the aim is to have a great year and be there at the end of the World Cup at the end of the year.
"I've got a little girl back home who is 11 now and priorities change in that I want to be there for her sport and perhaps coach here in her sporting teams.
"Obviously within the rugby league world coaching is a very, very big passion of mine so I'd certainly want to get involved. So while I'll eventually finish playing coaching is something I'd look forward to afterwards.
"At the moment it's just about having a fantastic year and the ultimate aim is to play good footy and that starts with good club footy week in and week out."
The Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns representatives were among the most popular players among fans at the Auckland Nines Fan Day on Friday but Kunst said that any extra recognition hasn't translated to Isabella.
"Kids are funny. To her I'm just Mum," Kunst said. "I'm just Mum who plays footy.
"Whether or not you're on a poster or on TV or whatever to her I'm just Mum and that's awesome and I think that's important with the next generation coming through.
"While it's great that the women's game has got that exposure I think it's really important that we remain humble and we remember the girls that have paved that pathway for us to get to where we are."