Frontier-breaking rugby league veteran and CRL Newcastle champion Kylie Hilder has confirmed she will be taking the reigns of the Sydney Rooster’s Nines side for next year’s short-format tournament in Perth.
The 43-year-old star, who journeyed from park footy in Taree all the way to the national competition in its fledgling years, and lifted the Women’s State of Origin trophy with NSW this year, retired after the 2019 season.
Her final campaign saw her play a leadership role with Newcastle as the CRL-backed squad charged to an NSW Women’s premiership under the watchful eye of Rick Stone, before she took up an assistant coaching role alongside her mentor in the NRLW.
The commanding rake, who also works as an NSWRL Women’s Participation Officer, said she wasn’t completing diving into the world of coaching and leading teams just yet, but was certainly looking forward to the Chooks’ Nines run.
“I feel more comfortable coaching in the Nines format,” Hilder said, and admitted she wouldn’t be looking for an NRLW gig straight off the bat in 2020.
“I still think I’ve got a lot to learn in the game before I feel ready within myself to take on a role like that so I’ll just do the Nines first and see how I go.
“Just because you play the game it doesn’t necessarily mean you are a good coach either. It’s not just the coaching of rugby league it’s also understanding the role of the coach, so I’m wanting to learn as much as I possibly can.”
The veteran star also admitted she was “close friends” with a lot of the players she could be leading if she took over at the head of an NRLW team, including Newcastle allies Isabelle Kelly and Hannah Southwell at the Roosters, and said that might change things too.
“I know a lot of the players that are in the game at the moment so that helps in a way with coaching but it can also be a deterrent because you still have that close relationship with them but it’s about finding that balance,” she explained.
“We don’t have too many female coaches around but the game is evolving and the more we can get women involved, not just coaching but as trainers and things like that, the better it will be. I won’t be taking on the NRLW gig just yet.”
The Nines campaign, which will see the NRLW rosters completely reset because of a host of one-year contracts, is a completely different story, the 43-year-old said. She’s looking forward to testing herself fully at the short-format comp.
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“We’re all going to do it as joint venture where I’ll be able to bounce some ideas off them and help them with the men’s and they’ll be helping me with the women’s as well,” she explained of the Roosters’ plan for Perth in 2020.
“I’m very excited, obviously, it’s a great honour to be asked to even to do it. With the Nines, it’s such a fun concept and it’ll be my first coaching project on my own.
“I think it’s the perfect stepping stone and I’m looking forward to it. NSWRL have been very supportive in giving me time to take on this new direction.”
While Hilder has seen what explosive players like Kelly, Smith, and Southwell can do, and has played a helping hand in helping other Newcastle-come-Sydney converts like Mel Howard and Caitlan Johnston, she said her squad wasn’t set in stone.
“We’re still working on getting the squad together but I’m looking at getting some fast, fit players because Nines is such a different game to 13-aside,” she said.
According to the NRL, player contracts between the 2019 NRLW season and next year’s iteration will only last the length of the weekend’s tournament, meaning no one will be locked into clubs for the remainder of 2020 if they pencil deals.
That means Hilder basically has her pick of the litter, and could even pick superstar choices from other clubs like Golden Boot winner Jessica Sergis, Jillaroos winger Nakia Davis-Welsh, or even sidelined Dragons star Sam Bremner.
“We can contact anyone, it’s open for all but I still want to keep the nucleus of the team we had for the NRLW,” Hilder confirmed.
“Yes, it wasn’t the best season in the NRLW [for the Roosters] but the Nines is whole new game. It’s all about making it a big, fun three days – that’s what I’ve been telling the players I’m speaking with already.
“We’re all going there to play and rediscover a love of footy. A lot of girls walked away disappointed after the NRLW season, so I think just we just need to start from scratch and rebuild at the Roosters.”
Clubs are expected to fill their 16-player squads in January.
This is the first time NRLW clubs will play in the shortened formatted competition.