Michael Burgess

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

Netball: Langman is first on the team sheet

Laura Langman in action at the Silver ferns New Zealand Netball trials. 8 August 2013 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Richard Robinson.
Laura Langman in action at the Silver ferns New Zealand Netball trials. 8 August 2013 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Richard Robinson.

It's just as well Laura Langman seems immune to injury, as no player in New Zealand netball will carry a greater burden over the next 12 months.

She famously hasn't missed a game for club or country since, well forever, and that trend will need to continue over the next year.

Langman was already the go-to girl in the middle of the court for the Silver Ferns, the main driver on both attack and defence, but the recent withdrawals of Camilla Lees and Kayla Cullen, coupled with the unavailability of Liana Leota have changed the equation.

It gives the midcourt a raw look, not what you need ahead of a five test series against Australia, with three of those games to be played across the Tasman.

At franchise level the 27-year-old has made a much publicised departure from the Magic, who she had represented since her schooldays. But it is more than a move to the Mystics - Langman is expected to move the Mystics to a new level, to give them an edge they have never really had before.

In sport we like to talk about the spine of the team but last year's Mystics team was essentially spineless; injuries and a pregnancy robbed them of some important players then most of the rest of the key players went missing too, unwilling or unable to reach the standards of previous seasons.

In 2014 Langman will be the focal point of the midcourt - with little experience around her - but will also be expected to improve the work ethic at the Auckland franchise and change the culture to a more ruthless one. No small order then - but Langman tends to embrace such challenges.

"To be honest I am excited about it all," says Langman, brimming with her usual positivity.

"Against Australia it is always the same - we need to try and get the best out of each other. Obviously with my experience I can help out but I still need to focus on my role, my game."

It's debatable whether it is advisable to put such a load on one player and it's hard to think of an individual player more important to a New Zealand national side.

Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have been incredible players but the All Blacks lose little when either of the duo are not present.

Ryan Nelsen used to leave a huge vacuum whenever he was unavailable for the All Whites while hooker Issac Luke and five-eighth Kieran Foran would be difficult to replace for the Kiwis, due to the lack of depth in their respective positions. Players such as Casey Kopua, Irene van Dyk and Maria Tutaia are also extremely valuable but there are proven replacements waiting in the wings.

But Langman is probably irreplaceable at international level. It's something we haven't had to contemplate as she has not missed a game for the Ferns (90 caps and counting) since her debut in 2005.

Apart from her defensive nous and incredible work rate - she seems to cover more territory on the court than any other player - she has also become a genuine attacking weapon, especially in her combination with Irene van Dyk. A wing defence when she first came into the sport, Langman is always near the top of the goal assist charts at the end of each ANZ Championship season.

Her success is down to a fastidious attitude to training, a competitive nature that is second to none and taking nothing for granted. She tends to top the fitness testing in camps and is often the one suggesting they do more, which is not always popular among her team mates. But talk to her before every selection camp, or in test week, and her first thought is "I hope I get selected".

Ask her if she feels guilty about monopolising the centre position for almost a decade and she laughs - "No way - I want to be out there and play every game possible".

She is also famously organised, down to the minute, as she holds down a full-time accounting job around her sporting duties and other commitments. She initially plans to commute to Mystics training, staying overnight with family friends in Auckland where necessary.

Her transfer to the Mystics has come at the perfect time. She doesn't expect - nor want - to be captain but she will be a leader.

"It will be a big challenge obviously," says Langman of her new Mystics venture. "But I am excited by it and I've got my own objectives that I want to accomplish."

Still, leaving the Magic has been a wrench, one of the most difficult decisions of her career. The two franchises have both been successful on the court but are vastly different off it, a bit like the Crusaders and the Blues.

"The Magic were my family and now I need to get used to a different family," says Langman. "At the Magic we were friends on and off the court. The Mystics operate differently and it is a matter of getting to know how they work."

Meanwhile, it seems likely the Magic have won the race to sign former Silver Ferns midcourter Grace Rasmussen.

As reported by the Herald on Sunday last week, Rasmussen had become a major target of the Waikato franchise, as they try to shore up their midcourt following the loss of Langman. The 25-year-old, who is a foundation Mystics player and can play centre, wing attack and goal attack, has considered offers from both the Mystics and the Magic but is expected to shift franchises.

- Herald on Sunday

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