Honey Hireme’s standing among women’s rugby league’s all-time greats was assured many years ago. Her tenure in the Kiwi Ferns jersey – which includes four World Cups – spans 18 seasons, while she was named in NRL.com’s Women’s Rugby League Team of the Decade (2010s) and appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to the game in 2019.
Born in Putaruru, Waikato, Hireme first represented New Zealand against New Zealand Māori in a non-Test match in 2002. The 22-year-old scored 10 tries at the following year’s World Cup, including a double in the 58-0 defeat of New Zealand Māori in the final, and was named in the Team of the Tournament.
Kiwi Ferns fixtures were scarce in the ensuing years, but the blockbusting centre was one of several players to back up for their successful World Cup title defence in 2008.
Hireme, who by now was representing Counties-Manukau, captained the Kiwi Ferns at the 2013 World Cup, where they relinquished their crown to Australia via a 22-12 loss in the final. Despite the defeat, Hireme was named Player of the Tournament after scoring seven tries in four games (including five against France).
A New Zealand Rugby Sevens rep, Hireme made her rugby union Test debut for the Black Ferns at the 2014 World Cup. Three months later she co-captained the Kiwi Ferns to victory over the Jillaroos in Wollongong.
After turning out for the Kiwi Ferns at the 2017 NRL Auckland Nines, Hireme ended a three-year absence from the Test rugby league arena at that year’s World Cup. The Papakura Sisters star played four matches on the wing and was the tournament’s top try-scorer with 13 – more than double her closest rival. Hireme scored six tries in the pool-stage thrashing of Cook Islands, a hat-trick in the semi-final defeat of England and a brilliant first-half double in the gallant loss to Australia in the final.
Hireme was snapped up by St George Illawarra for the inaugural NRLW premiership, playing all three of the Dragons’ games and averaging 129 metres. She was outstanding in New Zealand’s subsequent Test loss to Australia in Auckland, making three line-breaks and a game-high 214 metres in the 26-24 thriller as she showcased her trademark speed, power and fend.
Hireme was named 2018 Kiwi Ferns Player of the Year, following on from NZRL Women’s Player of the Year nods she received in 2007 and 2012.
Having returned to the Waikato – playing for Hamilton City Tigers and representing Wai-Coa-Bay at the NZRL National Women’s Tournament – Hireme was named Kiwi Ferns captain for the mid-2019 Test against Fetu Samoa. She scored two tries and again ran for over 200 metres in the 46-8 win.
Hireme signed with the Warriors but sat out the 2019 NRLW campaign to be with her terminally ill mother, Caryn, who passed away on September 25. Just weeks later she was named the inaugural Veronica White Medal winner for her outstanding contribution to the community through rugby league and returned to the field to lead the Kiwi Ferns to World Cup Nines glory; Hireme scored four tries and was named in the Team of the Tournament.
The inspirational 38-year-old was a shining light in the Kiwi Ferns’ 28-8 Test loss to the Jillaroos in Wollongong, scoring their only try of the second half and running for a team-high 127 metres.
Injury ruled Hireme out of the Warriors’ 2020 NRLW campaign but she was integral to Upper Central Stallions’ capture of the inaugural NZRL National Women’s Championship title. She then farewelled the black-and-white jersey with a trademark barnstorming try in the Kiwi Ferns’ 28-8 victory over Fetu Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium, announcing her retirement – and the end of an unparalleled women’s rugby league career – the following day.