Mya Hill-Moana is happy to be considered an old-school rugby league player.
But she’s also a member of the new school – a generation of women who are set to have more opportunities to play the game than ever before.
And even though she has only just turned 20, the Waikato product is already taking on leadership roles as she begins to blaze a trail with the Kiwi Ferns on the international stage and the Sydney Roosters in the NRL Women’s Premiership.
Most notably, Hill-Moana was given the responsibility of leading the haka for the Māori All Stars as they took on Australia’s Indigenous All Stars in their annual fixture over the last two years.
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The squads for those matches were restricted to players based in Australia due to Covid-19 restrictions and she was given the honor as one of the few members who could speak fluent te reo.
“I took that on the board so I could help the girls that were in camp build their inmate and be more comfortable speaking it and more comfortable showing it,” says Hill-Moana (Waikato Tainui).
“I’ve been fortunate enough to lead the haka for two years, and the girls have come to me and they do feel more confident in presenting themselves and doing the haka.
“They used to be scared. They thought they weren’t good enough or they thought they looked ugly or not fierce enough, but now with me helping them gain their confidence, they just love doing it and that’s a big piece of it, that I’m giving back to them.”
Hill-Moana’s first Māori All Stars nod came after she made her debut for the Kiwi Ferns at the end of 2020, coming off the interchange bench in the 28-8 win over Samoa that marked the team’s 25th anniversary.
She’s back with the national team this week as they prepare to play Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday, in the middle of the first Matariki long weekend, and says it’s like being part of a sisterhood.
“It’s like we all grew up together because that’s how bonded we are now.
“Through all the different stages in a footy career – All-Stars, NRL, Māoris, everything – all these girls are always there, so when we do come into camp, it’s like we’ve never left each other.”
Kiwi Ferns coach Ricky Henry says Hill-Moana is “a middle forward from the old school,” who “plays really direct and plays with a lot of physicality,” but has also grown her football IQ during her first campaign with the Roosters.
Hill-Moana laughs when the old-school tag is brought up and says she gets it from her dad, Tame Moana, who also plays prop and is still running around for their club, Taniwharau in Huntly, in his 40s.
“I take a lot of tips from my dad. He’s an old school player as well – just run up hard, tackle hard, get up, and go again.
“I do think I’m a little bit of an old school player because of my dad, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Having made her Kiwi Ferns debut at the end of 2020 and her Māori All Stars debut in early 2021, Hill-Moana had to wait to make the step up to NRLW, with the 2021 season delayed on a couple of occasions before it finally took place earlier this year.
She started for the Roosters in the grand finale at Moreton Daily Stadium in Redcliffe, north of Brisbane, and says it was a “next level” contest to be a part of.
“I don’t think I’d been in an environment like that before. I’d only seen it on TV. Being in it, being the one running out on the field, having the butterflies, the emotions – everything was just kicking in.
“But as soon as you touch the footy, or as soon as you make your first tackle, you’re in the zone.”
Two months on, the defining memory for Hill-Moana from her side’s 16-4 win over the St George Illawarra Dragons was receiving her premiership ring at the end of it.
Then came her return home to Huntly in north Waikato and Taniwharau, where she was able to celebrate her success with friends and family, none of whom could travel to see her play in person due to Covid-19 border restrictions.
Hill-Moana also became the first woman to receive a club blazer for on-field feats, joining a select group of women to have one at all. She hopes she’ll be the first of many to come and says her de ella “heart was full” after the special occasion.
“Not many women in our club have a blazer, so I’m very fortunate and very honored to have one and I have got it here with me [in the Kiwi Ferns camp].
“The club means so much to me. They do a lot for me. They always support me from afar. If I do come up to big games, I always get a video from my club, and it always puts tears on my face.
“Everywhere I go, I always represent my club. I’ll always go back to them.”
Hill-Moana has split her time between New Zealand and Australia since 2017 and will go again with the Roosters as they seek to defend their title when the 2022 NRLW season begins in August.
She is excited about the opportunities that competition will present as it grows, including the prospect of being able to forge a full-time career in the game she loves, but in the immediate future, she also has her sights set on playing for the Kiwi Ferns at the Women’s Rugby League World Cup in England later this year.
“Making NRL was the first on the list, but now that has been accomplished, my next step is the World Cup,” says Hill-Moana, who will make her second Kiwi Ferns appearance and first start this weekend.
“Being able to play this test match, I can show what I am capable of doing, and hopefully the coaches will take it on board.
“I’ll be working hard for my own position, but working hard for our girls as well, and hoping to be fortunate enough to make that World Cup side, and represent my country at the World Cup.”