Kylie Hilder has announced her retirement from Rugby League for the third time but is adamant this time it will definitely stick after representing NSW and winning the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership in 2020.
The 44-year-old mother of two started the season coaching the Sydney Roosters Women’s 9s team in February and was poised to coach the Central Coast Roosters in the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership competition, which boasted NSW stars Hannah Southwell and Isabelle Kelly.
“If COVID-19 hadn’t have happened I wouldn’t have been playing,” Hilder explained.
“The reason I was coaching was because John Strange, who was also assisting me, was still involved with Junior Reps.
“Then COVID-19 happened and obviously all the Junior Reps were cancelled and then John said that he was able to come on board and be that coach.
“In lockdown for three months I was just training and keeping myself fit and I felt good. So when it was time to go back we went to the first session and I just started running and before we knew it by the second session I said, ‘I want to play, coach’.
“He was all for it, he was actually encouraging me to do it because he felt we still needed that bit of direction in the middle and that older head in the team as we had some new faces and some younger girls in the team, so it worked out well.”
The Roosters were the team to beat with Hilder at hooker and they went on to claim the Minor Premiership before taking out the title with a 16-10 Grand Final victory over the North Sydney Bears at Bankwest Stadium in September.
Hilder then helped the Roosters’ NRLW team to a Grand Final against the Brisbane Broncos as assistant coach alongside Strange and head coach Jamie Feeney.
Following the Grand Final, she received a call from Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Origin coach Andy Patmore asking her to be 20th player for their upcoming clash with Queensland in November.
“There was a little bit of silence for a couple of seconds and then I said I would do whatever is needed for the Origin side,” Hilder said.
She trained with the side during their two-week quarantine stint on the Sunshine Coast and got a late call-up to the team after hooker Keeley Davis suffered a back injury. Despite the 24-18 loss, Hilder relished the experience of pulling on a Blues jersey for only the second time in her career.
“It probably meant more to me this time because it did come completely out of the blue for me,” Hilder said.
“I was never expecting to even play footy this year but to finish off and play my last game of Rugby League for the year representing NSW - I can’t explain how that felt.
“In years to come I’ll be able to tell the story of how I ended up playing and the whole evolvement of the last three days leading into Origin.
“It was such a whirlwind of I was and I wasn’t and then to be told the day before Captain’s Run I’d be starting was huge.
“As I said, it meant more to me because it was unexpected and I really appreciated and made sure I enjoyed every moment of Origin and every moment leading into the game, whereas the year before I think I took a lot of things for granted.”
With a 2019 Origin win, two Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership titles, representation with the Jillaroos and four Touch World Cup titles to her name, Hilder will now turn her attention to coaching in the women’s space. She believes more female coaches needed to be introduced in order for the game to thrive.
“The one piece of advice I’d give to any new coach coaching females is that when we’re on the field were just footy players,” Hilder said.
“You don’t have to coach us like we’re a bunch of women, we’re football players that want to learn on the field, we want to be coached like football players.
“Off the field, yes there a few different ways you need to handle things around that but when we’re on that field and we’re training we just want to be coached as if were football players and that’s the biggest thing male coaches need to understand.
“We need to get more females coaching to change the perception out there that women can’t coach because they can.
“But it doesn’t mean that every female team playing Rugby League needs to be coached by a female either, it just needs to be the right person.”