Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Netball: In the middle of everything

Laura Langman. Photo / Richard Robinson
Laura Langman. Photo / Richard Robinson

As far as job descriptions go, Laura Langman's over the next few months is just a little daunting.

She has to be the main playmaker, vice-captain and defensive workhorse in the middle of the court for the Silver Ferns, as well as trying to get the best out of the midcourt rookies around her.

Until about a year ago Langman was comfortably ensconced in a hardened trio. In front of her stood Temepara George, behind her there was the familiar figure of Joline Henry, and the replacements included Grace Rasmussen and Liana Leota. That's all changed. George has retired and Henry is on maternity leave (which removes a combined 157 caps), while Leota is in England on a sabbatical and Rasmussen hasn't been picked.

It adds up to the most inexperienced Ferns engine room since 2008, when Adine Wilson and Julie Seymour had just departed. Langman is now the Ferns everything girl, up against a set of brutally experienced Australians. Is there too much on her shoulders?

"No there isn't - she'll cope," Ferns coach Wai Taumaunu told the Herald on Sunday.

"If you look at the ANZ Championship, that is what she was asked to do and she stood up really well. She had an inexperienced wing defence and wing attack and I felt she held that whole thing together. Elias [Shadrock] and Khao [Watts] did a great job supporting her, but it was led and run by Laura."

Taumaunu's point is valid but underlines the issue; after a gruelling campaign with the Magic, Langman is being asked to "hold things together" all over again in the international arena, starting with the Constellation Cup series which begins next Sunday. There must be some concern on how it will affect her individual game, though Langman is always up for a challenge.

"It doesn't faze me and I don't look at it like that at all," says Langman.

"I have enough personal challenges within this team before I start to worry about others.

"Once I tick those boxes, then I can start worrying about our team going in the right direction. Vice-captain is a great opportunity, but I mainly need to do my own job.

"I don't think I am looking after [the rest of the midcourt]," she adds. "My natural personality is to share information and give my two cents, but they are all strong in their own right. Although we are lacking in caps, I think everyone in their own way is very experienced and I have confidence in every member of our midcourt that we can stand up and do the job.

"At this level, people know what they are doing and it is more about getting that team cohesion and making sure we all link together."

Building those links is the most crucial task leading into the first test. George and Langman had played so much together, a lot of their movements and combinations were instinctive, almost telepathic, the true "invisible threads" that Lois Muir likes to talk about. Watching Langman and Camilla Lees together last week, you could see the partnership beginning to build, though both player and coach realise there is a long way to go.

"It's not perfect, but I like what I'm seeing," says Taumaunu of the midcourt. "I'm pleased with where Laura and Camilla are heading; especially their understanding, their ability to put the ball into space - and that takes time to grow."

Langman agrees: "It is a work in progress, but we have achieved a lot since trials week and every day we are growing in confidence."

Next Sunday, Langman will suit up for her 81st consecutive test since making her debut, an unparalleled streak in any New Zealand team sport.

While the player modestly puts her durability down to luck and the "incredible support staff" (doctors, physiotherapists and conditioning staff), her coach has a different take.

"She has great muscle balance and core strength and her technique is always good," explains Taumaunu.

"This means the training she does doesn't stress her body and means she is always in peak condition for games. Laura is mentally very tough, physically a great specimen and works really hard to be technically correct."

Which sounds like just the recipe for an 'everything girl'.

- Herald on Sunday

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