Honey Hireme was in two minds about being involved in the Kiwis Ferns international programme this year, but says her late mother would have wanted her to be there.
Hireme will captain the New Zealand team at the Rugby League Nines World Cup, just over three weeks after farewelling her Mum Caryn, who passed away after a battle with stomach cancer on September 25.
That had seen Hireme miss the entire NRLW season with the Warriors, as she remained in the Waikato to be close to her family, and she was unsure about coming back.
"I did not consider not playing, or maybe missing the Nines and saving myself for the test match [against the Jillaroos on October 25], especially being away from home and family for two weeks...that was my biggest hangup," said Hireme.
"But when I think about Mum and what she would want, I know absolutely that she would want me to be here and get some normality back in my life and have the support of the girls. That is what she would want, to do what makes me happy. I love rugby league and I've loved it since I was five years old."
Caryn's diagnosis in July was a shock — completely out of the blue — and saw Hireme put working life, as well as her sports career, on hold.
"The whole league community as a whole has been really understanding and really comforting," said Hireme. "It made it really easy for me to transition back into footy and lead the girls the way that Mum would want me to."
Hireme's presence is a massive boost. The 38-year-old centre remains one of the best strike weapons in the sport, and brings a mana and presence that is impossible to replace.
Aside from her Nines experience, she also played 49 times for New Zealand in rugby sevens, a veteran of the short, sharp, format.
"The coaches have given me a bit of responsibility in terms of putting a gameplan and structure together for the Nines and I am enjoying that as well."
Hireme added that the team have been given near free rein to express themselves, and want to put on a 'backyard footy' type exhibition.
"We are excited for the open, type game that Nines is and being able to unleash the raw talent that we have got," said Hireme.
"We still need to dominate in the middle but we want to play a free style kind of game. It's just about locking down some of those basics, and the rule changes, and then we are just going to play. It's like backyard footy and as Kiwis it's something we do quite naturally."
The Ferns face Australia on Friday to open the tournament (10:35pm NZT), before games against Papua New Guinea (1:30pm) and England (8:05pm) on Saturday. The final is set down for 9:45pm which makes for a potentially demanding schedule.
"We'll have rolling subs and will need really good timings and structure around that," said Hireme.
"For me personally, I'll be a sub off on defence, sub on on attack, kind of person. I'm older and wiser, and able to draw on a lot of Sevens experience."