Legendary Honey Hireme-Smiler and playmaker Shaun Johnson have today been confirmed to captain the Kiwi Ferns and the Kiwis in the inaugural World Cup Nines at Sydney’s Bankwest Stadium on Friday and Saturday.
Hireme-Smiler (38) and Johnson (29) aren’t only the most seasoned international players in each of the squads but they can also draw on significant experience in the nines game.
Hireme-Smiler featured on the Auckland NRL Nines stage twice in 2016 and 2017 for the Kiwi Ferns against the Jillaroos.
She is returning to the football field after missing the Warriors' NRLW campaign to keep a bedside vigil over her seriously-ill mother Caryn, who lost her fight with cancer last month.
Johnson was involved in each of the four NRL Nines tournaments at Eden Park in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, captaining the Vodafone Warriors in the first three before the legendary Ruben Wiki led the side in 2017; Johnson was selected for the 2017 event but ultimately didn't play due to injury.
The first appearances for the pair were in central Sydney today when the Kiwis and the Kiwi Ferns gathered with every squad at the Botanical Gardens overlooking the harbour.
The full squads from the 16 competing countries – 12 men and four women – were captured in a number of photos including a spectacular one of all teams lined up together.
Johnson leads a 16-man team which features eight players yet to play for the Kiwis. The squad assembled in Sydney on Monday, having its first field session at Leichhardt Oval yesterday.
The Kiwi Ferns also trained for the first time yesterday. One change has been made to the side with Warriors hooker Kanyon Paul coming into the Kiwi Ferns for the first time as a late replacement for unavailable Brisbane dummy half Lavinia Gould. Her selection means the Warriors provide 12 of their NRLW players in the squad.
The Kiwi Ferns open their campaign against the Jillaroos on Friday night with two more pool games against England and Papua New Guinea on Saturday night. The top two teams go into the final.
The Kiwis meet the Kangaroos on Friday night and have two more pool games against Papua New Guinea and the United States on Saturday. The top two teams from the group go into the semi-finals involving the winners of the other two pools. England is grouped with Wales, France and Lebanon in one pool while Tonga Invitational leads the remaining pool alongside Toa Samoa, Fiji Bati and Cook Islands.