October 28, 2022
As seen on NRL.com
If Apii Nicholls is able to return to her damaging best for the Kiwi Ferns during the upcoming Women’s World Cup in England, it will be thanks in part to the influence of a 20-Test Jillaroo.
After two years away from the game, during which time she gave birth to her second son Felix, Nicholls questioned whether she still belonged at NRLW level at the start of the 2022 season.
It was at that point that Steph Hancock, the 40-year-old Titans prop and Jillaroos legend, took it upon herself to become somewhat of a personal mentor to her teammate, with words of encouragement that proved crucial during the pre-season on the Gold Coast.
“Steph was pushing me, telling me that I am ready and that I haven’t lost that elite ability. She supported me to keep going because she felt like I was ready and I could do this,” Nicholls told NRL.com.
“Playing with her, her leadership on the field, she inspires me to do my best.
“To this day she checks in now and then to make sure my mind is in the game.
“You need people like that in your life.”
Nicholls went on to appear in each of the Gold Coast’s five NRLW games this past season, playing as both a fullback and centre, before earning a call up from Kiwi Ferns coach Ricky Henry.
Hancock said she is in awe of how Nicholls and other mum’s managed to return to the field after giving birth, recalling a moment in the Titans’ round 2 clash with the Knights which tested even her own concentration levels.
“I don’t know how Apii actually managed. At the Titans’ home game this year I distinctly remember her son Felix in the stands being looked after, literally at kick off, and I could hear him screaming,” Hancock told NRL.com.
“I looked over at her and you could see she probably wasn’t concentrating and she threw a wild pass right at the start but then came right.
“Even though she definitely has the ability and the talent, I think she sort of second guessed herself with her confidence.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to get to know Apii.”
However Hancock admits the cordial relationship will be tested if Nicholls goes on to help New Zealand beat Australia to the World Cup title.
“I will be filthy, I’m not going to lie. That will have an impact on our friendship,” Hancock laughed.
“Being a Jillaroo for 20 years my heart is with the green and gold and I hope we do it for a third time in a row.”