Honey Hireme has been a Kiwi Fern, a Black Fern and represented New Zealand and New Zealand Maori in sevens. And almost 16 years since first taking to the field for her country, she shows no signs of slowing down.
She has been likened to legends such as Richie McCaw and Sonny Bill Williams – but Honey Hireme is a name many Kiwis aren’t even aware of, despite the fact she has close to 100 caps representing New Zealand in rugby, sevens and rugby league.
With the women’s arms of these sports receiving just a fraction of the investment and media profile of its male counterparts, it is little surprise that most Kiwis have never even seen Honey in action, despite the fact she has trail blazed on the field for more than a decade.
Affectionately dubbed ‘Honey Bill Williams’ by many in the sport for her talent and versatility, Honey first represented New Zealand straight out of school as an 18-year-old, making the New Zealand Women’s Rugby League team, a side she later went on to captain (and lead to victory in several World Cup games), as well as being named women’s player of the year.
She is a standout member of the New Zealand rugby sevens team, scoring nine tries in the opening three tournaments of the women’s sevens world series and showing outstanding form to help win the Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow in 2013.
And when rugby came calling last year, Honey joined the Black Ferns for the first time for the 2014 International Women’s Rugby Series, playing in eight of the nine Black Ferns 2014 tests and scoring eight tries, including four against the USA at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France.
So it is no exaggeration to call her one of New Zealand’s greatest cross-code athletes.
Although the retirement word was bandied around following her seven’s World Cup victory, Honey has re-assessed her future and now has her sights firmly set on winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, when rugby sevens makes its official debut.
Her sevens commitment has seen rugby and rugby league take something of a back seat, but like everything she does, Honey is 100 percent committed.
As the most senior member in the squad, the 34-year-old says she is the fittest she has ever been – and much of that is down to the new era of professionalism in the sport.
Looking back on her early years, she admits she largely got by on natural talent and determination.
“We just ran to keep fit, got out on the field and played our best. The change over the years has been huge and it’s great to be part of it. The specialised knowledge and coaching we have access to now, is amazing.”
Honey’s move towards a more professional era was cemented when she joined the ranks this year as one of New Zealand’s first-ever contracted female sevens players.
While far from earning the types of dollars of her namesake Sonny Bill; each season members of the women’s sevens squad receive a sum which goes towards allowing them to be full-time athletes.
It’s no easy money either. As well as being a mum to her 11-year-old son who is a keen basketballer, Honey works part-time at Life Unlimited, helping people with disabilities. Plus she is expected to put in some serious hours of training each week, including regular week-long camps at Mount Manganui with the men’s and women’s sevens team sharing training time.
She pumps out s a minimum of 14 workout sessions a week; including conditioning, skills and gym time. There are sprints at Porritt Stadium, weights workouts at Avantidrome, skills sessions, sports psychology…and that’s just some of it. In her own time she adds swimming and yoga to her ‘leisure’ options.
The upcoming goal is the World Series kicking off in Dubai in December. That’s followed by games in Brazil, Canada, America and Amsterdam. And while the travel to exotic locations seems like an extreme bonus, for Honey it’s not.
“I am a total homebody,” she admits. “If I could play out the rest of my career without leaving the shores of New Zealand, I would be extremely happy.”
Making her family proud is her greatest achievement, she says.
“I am surrounded by amazing family and right from when I was young, they’ve been on this journey with me. I really wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.”
And with such a gruelling schedule, Honey’s mum and brother have recently moved into her Hamilton home, helping take up the reins of supporting her son (who also demonstrates her athletic genetics in basketball and touch).
The Hireme genetics are well proven. Honey’s family pedigree includes sprinting sensation Corey Chase and Haden Hireme who played NPC rugby for Waikato. But her parents Chippy and Caryn are her greatest inspiration and support. Dad, Chippy was there when her sporting apprenticeship began on the rugby league field in Putaruru and mum Caryn is her constant rock in the background.
“Any spare time I get is family time. That is how I relax too, I go hang out with my family.”
Although less involved in rugby league and league this season, Honey is a regular visitor to Waikato schools, supporting and encouraging other young players. And her role at Life Unlimited, where she has worked for four years, is exactly everything she hoped she could do after leaving school.
“It’s a hugely fulfilling role, I get great enjoyment from it.”
Unable to play for her Waikato NPC side this season because of her commitment to sevens, Honey still got involved as the ‘water girl’ for her side whenever she could get there.
“I never forget that without the regional teams I played for, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said.
With an enviable energy for life, there is no doubt Honey gives everything to her sport and the people around her.
Yet she is remarkably humble about her successes, despite the fact her name is recognised and respected around the globe by fellow competitors.
Waikato rugby coach PJ Williams is quick to praise both her skill levels and her ‘cool under pressure’ personality.
“Whatever goal she sets for herself, she’s hugely self motivated and driven to reach it,” says PJ.
“She has a natural raw power and aggression on the field. She has mana. And her skills are feared worldwide.”
With both speed and strength, Honey has a strong defensive game but it is her skills on attack, including a fantastic offload, a remarkable ability to see a gap and arguably the best fend in the game, which set her apart.
Chatting with Honey as she calmly laces her rugby shoes, wearing her trademark friendly grin, she is hugely likeable. However when it is game time, she is unerringly focused. And she is the first to admit that above all, she likes to win.
“I have never every lost my passion for the game. Every time I run onto the field, it makes me happy.”
Honey Hireme is guest speaker at the upcoming Waipa District Sports Awards on November 16 at the Te Awamutu Events centre. Honey was Gallagher Sportswoman of the Year at the 2014 Brian Perry Waikato Regional Sports Awards.