National women's sevens contracts a big step
They used to be teachers, accountants and students.
They used to struggle to juggle their jobs, studies, families and of course their sport.
Nineteen of New Zealand's top women's rugby sevens players are now professional athletes, earning a regular income through their sport and allowing them to place more focus on training and tournaments.
New Zealand women's sevens coach Sean Horan announced his first contracted 19-strong squad on Wednesday, with top 'tier one' players earning at least $30,000, and 'tier four' players earning at least $15,000.
Waikato's Honey Hireme, the oldest woman to earn a contract with the New Zealand squad at 32, said being contracted will make a big difference to her life.
A programme co-ordinator at Life Unlimited in Hamilton, Hireme is used to working full time and relying on her boss to give her time off for sevens.
"It's quite a demanding sport with the amount of time we need to take for travel and tournaments and training, so it really helps to have that financial support.
"I work with people with disabilities, and Life Unlimited has supported me from the get go with my sevens. They've been great.
"But it's very hard to work 40 hours a week and then find time for family and sevens and everything else.
"We've got accountants, teachers, people like that playing, as well as a lot of students. A few of us are looking at dropping the hours back to about 20 hours a week now, which will be huge for our sevens."
Hireme is the first to admit that the contracts aren't exactly going to allow the players to retire early.
The money isn't flash.
But the important thing isn't the amount of money, she said, but the fact that women are finally getting paid to play the game.
"It's a start. I'm really proud to have got one of these contracts," she said.
"The fact that I can now drop my hours down a bit, and focus more on training is going to be great.
"It's a really good move for us to bring us in line with other countries. They were already on full time contracts, and had been for some time.
"I think it's also a reflection on our performance and where we are taking women's rugby at the moment."
Coach Sean Horan is hopeful this squad will raise the bar for women's sevens in New Zealand and abroad, giving those who missed out on the squad added incentive to make it next time.
"It creates a real competitive edge, and as we could see at nationals the quality of players is getting higher and higher," he said.
"It's great for the game of women's sevens.
"It was about 18 months ago that we played our first sevens tournament in Fiji, and we've learnt a lot from then.
"We're starting to come up with a better product, and that will continue to improve because we have these contracted women."
According to the Memorandum of Understanding between New Zealand Rugby and the Rugby Players Collective, at least 16 players must be contracted each year, with a minimum pay cheque of $15,000.
Four of those players must earn at least $30,000, eight must earn at least $25,000, and 12 must earn at least $20,000 a year.
That means the top contracted sevens players are earning just above New Zealand's minimum wage from the sport.
To compare to the men's sevens side, the top four players earn at least $80,000 a year, while the 'tier four' players earn at least $30,000, the same as the top women.
Tournament fees are also doubled for the men's team, earning $2000 per tournament, compared to $1000 for the women.
Hireme doesn't think women's sevens players will ever earn the same amount as their male counterparts, but said that's probably fair in the current climate.
"I'm not confident. But I think the NZRU and High Performance Sport are pretty fair with where it's at," she said.
"As women's sevens grows I think they will keep upping their support, so I do think it will improve."
For now, though, the players are just happy they're getting something.
Now they are professional athletes.