As she prepares to line up against her Kiwi Ferns teammates in the Warriors side on Saturday, Honey Hireme admits the 30-year journey from the Putaruru Dragons to the St George Illawarra Dragons was something she could never have envisaged.
When Hireme began playing league as a seven-year-old in Waikato in 1988, the Warriors didn't exist, St George and Illawarra were separate clubs and the first proposal for a professional women's competiton was decades away.
After topping the try-scoring ladder with 13 tries in four matches for New Zealand during last year's World Cup, Hireme thought she'd achieved all the code had to offer and was planning to retire but the establishment of the Holden NRL Women's Premiership changed her mind.
Most assumed the 37-year-old would be one of the first signings for the Warriors but she chose to join the Dragons to experience playing for a traditional NRL club alongside Jillaroos stars Sam Bremner, Kezie Apps and Talesha Quinn.
"Obviously, I had grown up and played all my rugby league in New Zealand so it was just a really good opportunity to come over here," Hireme said.
"Rugby league is the No.1 sport here so I thought it would be good to experience how you guys do it in Australia."
With a squad made up mostly of local talent and others with a connection to the Illawarra competition, Dragons coach Daniel Lacey viewed Hireme as a mentor for his young players as well as a strike weapon in the backline.
She played centre in last Sunday's 30-4 loss to Brisbane and despite being on the losing team managed a game-high 11 tackle breaks, while carrying the ball for 121 metres and creating a line-break assist for 21-year-old winger Shakiah Tungai.
Lacey is also considering playing Hireme at fullback and moving captain Sam Bremner into the halves at some stage during Saturday's match against the Warriors at ANZ Stadium or in the following weekend's clash with Sydney Roosters.
"It is the good thing about rugby league is that it creates an environment where you can throw a whole bunch of random people together and they just come together to play the game we love," Hireme said. "The comradery is really important and we are starting to build a culture in our team."
Apps revealed that much of the game plan for the Jillaroos in last year's World Cup final against the Kiwi Ferns focused on trying to shut down Hireme in attack.
"She scored against us [twice] so we didn't do that very well," Apps said. "She was scoring tries right, left and centre during the World Cup so I'm glad she is on our team now.
"Honey brings a lot of knowledge and experience to the team. She is just a true leader with everything she does and it is exciting to play with her."
Hireme said she was also enjoying the experience of playing alongside some of her international opponents, while she is looking forward to taking on the Warriors.
"I have been playing against the Jillaroos for the last 15 years so to be in a team alongside them is great," she said. "I did have a couple of other offers but Lacey was just real up front with me from the get go.
"I think he has similar values to me, he was real supportive and the girls are great. They are professional and they have welcomed me with open arms.
"I suppose it is going to be a bit different playing against the Warriors but I did grow up in a small town in New Zealand and played for the Putaruru Dragons so there is a connection there."
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