Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana Johannsen: Ferns contemplate life without Langman

Laura Langman. Photo John Davidson / www.photosport.nz
Laura Langman. Photo John Davidson / www.photosport.nz

November 20, 2004 doesn't initially jump out as a significant date in New Zealand netball.

It was the third and deciding test of the Holden Astra series in Melbourne, where the Silver Ferns - the world champions of the day - were chasing a rare series victory on Australian soil.

The Ferns, fresh off an historic home series clean sweep over Australia earlier that year, blew an opportunity for a further breakthrough, suffering a narrow 53-51 loss.

That match was also the last time Laura Langman has not featured in the midcourt for the Silver Ferns.

Langman made her international debut at home against England in March 2005 and has taken the court in all 136 tests since.

Twelve seasons on, the Silver Ferns are about to discover what life is like without Langman once more as the 30-year-old prepares to hit the pause button on her international career.

Confirmation Langman will take up a contract with the Sunshine Coast Lightning in the Australian domestic competition next season means the star midcourter will be ineligible to play for the Ferns in 2017.

She was granted an exemption to play for the NSW Swifts in the final season of the ANZ Championship this year, but the split in the transtasman league saw Netball NZ take a hard line.

The national body informed players in May that to be eligible for the New Zealand programme, athletes must play in the new elite domestic league next season.

Netball NZ needed to be unwavering in its stance to ensure it retains its top talent on these shores or risk undermining the national programme - as England Netball's has been - and turning the domestic league into a second-rate competition.

Still, many will struggle to get their heads around how Netball NZ, for whom player depth has long been an issue, can block one of its brightest stars from playing for the Ferns.

Those questions will only intensify next season if Janine Southby's side lose competitive ground against Australia.

There is no doubt the Ferns will initially struggle without Langman. There's a reason she has played 136 straight test matches for New Zealand.

Next season will force the Ferns to stamp out their reliance on Langman. Having seen the way Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Jane Watson stepped up in the absence of Maria Tutaia and Anna Harrison, Langman's Aussie sabbatical may end up helping, rather than hindering, the Ferns quest for Commonwealth Games and World Cup gold.

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