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The Warriors admit there is no way to replace the impact of superstar centre Honey Hireme for their NRLW opener this Saturday, but say they have the talent to cover for her absence at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

Hireme hasn't been able to train with the squad and has ruled herself out of the trip to face the Roosters, as she continues to care for her mother Caryn who is battling an aggressive form of incurable stomach cancer.

Playing with the St George Illawarra Dragons last year, Hireme stood out as one of the NRLW's best attacking weapons, breaking 19 tackles and averaging 129 metres per game.

After being unveiled as the Warriors' star signing for the new NRLW campaign, the veteran dual-code international was expected to become a key part of the new-look side.

Coach Luisa Avaiki said the Warriors are still in a good position and have the luxury of being able to call on fellow Kiwi Fern Atawhai Tupaea to fill the void at right centre.   

"The plan doesn't change too much. We have got a centre there who is replacing Honey this week who is very experienced," Avaiki said.

Atawhai Tupaea in action during the NZRL National Women's Rugby League Tournament Final.
Atawhai Tupaea in action during the NZRL National Women's Rugby League Tournament Final.

"[Atawhai] probably doesn't have the build of Honey, but she's definitely got the speed and she's very strong.

"She's unique in her own way, I can't say she's going to be a complete replacement for Honey, but I think we have got a pretty good centre there this week."

Avaiki said there is still a chance Hireme could take the field when the Warriors host a stand alone NRLW match against the Dragons at Mt Smart Stadium in week two but there would be no pressure from the club.

"Even for Honey herself, she's really torn and wishes that she could be playing," Avaiki said.

"Whether or not her family situation allows her that, that's Honey's choice and I'm not going to make that choice for her."

Tupaea, 30, returned to league this season after two years out of the game, and captain Georgia Hale singled her out as a player who has impressed during the pre-season.

"She's going to be someone to watch out for," Hale said.   

"She has been in the Kiwi Ferns mix before and has come back from having a baby, she's looking really strong and is in great condition.

Rookies drive Warriors second season

"Just watching her bounce back from that and get straight back into footy has been awesome."

After winning just one of their three matches last year the Warriors have revamped their roster for 2019, with 12 new players in their squad.

Prop Aieshaleigh Smalley is part of the returning group which is relishing the chance to mentor the next crop of players.

"I think our role has just been to let the girls know they have to take the opportunity that's been given to them, because you don't know what will happen next year," Smalley told

"I can see the new girls are really excited, they're all on with the plan straight away and you can see in their eyes they are ready at training."

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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