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Langman ready to strike

via Netball Australia

LAURA LANGMAN HAD AN APOLOGY TO MAKE. NOT FOR WALKING AWAY FROM NETBALL DURING WHAT SHE JOKINGLY CALLS HER 2018 “GAP YEAR”, BUT TO HER HUSBAND, ADRIAN POOLEY, FOR WHAT SHE WAS LIKE BEFORE SHE LEFT.

“I had a magnificent year in 2018,’’ said the 151-Test Silver Fern great before her Suncorp Super Netball return for the two-time defending champion Sunshine Coast Lightning against Magpies Netball on Saturday at Melbourne Arena.

“I didn’t watch one second of netball, and I didn’t feel the urge to, so I felt like that was a really good indication that I had made a really good decision. I wouldn’t change it.

“I think the break has been so refreshing, and I definitely am a different person and player than I was, even in 2017. I’m way more chilled out. I actually said to my husband the other day ‘oh, man, I’m so sorry!’.’’

It had, no doubt, been a difficult period. Amid the triumph of the inaugural SSN flag under her coach and friend Noeline Taurua were frustrations over Netball New Zealand’s banning players competing in the new Australian domestic league from wearing the famous black dress.

Having signed on, regardless, for a second year at Sippy Downs, Langman announced in November, 2017, that she would walk away from netball altogether, and believed at that emotional time that she might not be back. She went snowboarding, tried other sports, and did a gruelling run-swim event in the Bay of Islands 12 months ago that she rates among the hardest things the renowned fitness fanatic has done.

Langman also embraced the rare chance to submerge herself in the full-time business world without worrying that netball training and playing commitments would intervene.

And then, mercifully, exemptions were made to allow superstars Langman and Maria Folau to play in Australia while still representing their country during an international stretch that will climax at July’s Netball World Cup in Liverpool.

Suddenly, Langman was back under coach and friend Noeline Taurua – with, she says, newfound perspective and the understanding that passion for netball does not mean being blinkered to other aspects of life. But as to what ultimately drew her back? “I don’t know!’’ She laughs. “Some days I’m strapping my ankles and I’m like ‘I can’t believe I’m here’.

“What drew me back? I actually don’t have an answer. I guess I’m just grateful for a second chance. I have a new appreciation for my body: there’s many a day it’s going ‘no Laura’, and I’m just like ‘here we go!’. And it just gets the job done.

“I’m under no illusions as to where I was in 2017 and where I am now, and that’s just something you have to accept as an athlete. I know my limits, and I’ve got to work within them!’’

Yet nor are any of her Suncorp Super Netball opponents under any illusion that one of the world’s premier midcourters will be a formidable foe. The 33-year-old was recently voted into the captaincy vacated by Geva Mentor, with goal defence Karla Pretorious as her deputy, and quips that the sizeable shoes she has to fill are size 12s that dwarf the more petite pair of nines that have carried her full circle.

“I started with Noels and I got the opportunity to finish with Noels,’’ she smiles. “I had played, I felt, with some of the best players in the years that I was involved in: I got to play against Laura Geitz and Sharni Layton and Geva Mentor. I got to feed Caitlin Bassett and I got to play alongside – and this was probably the highlight – Kimmie G. I couldn’t have asked for more. So the fact I’m back here, I don’t know what I’m doing!’’

Mentor is among the many who welcome it, for the sport was poorer for the absence of the triple World Cup and Commonwealth Games legend know as “Lauz’’ – the consummate professional who was also elected as New Zealand captain ahead of her comeback last September.

“We really missed her on the Sunshine Coast in 2018: not so much what she brought on court but what she brought off court. She’s such a phenomenal athlete, but just a genuine, down-to-earth, beautiful person,’’ says Mentor.

“I was so delighted to see her get the nod as captain of Lightning; I think she’ll do wonders. She says she’s got big shoes to fill, but I don’t think it’s about filling shoes; it’s about taking it in a new direction, and I think she’s the breath of fresh air that the club needs to take it to the next step, with Karla supporting her, as well.’’

Having returned to her first love, despite missing out on what she calls the “wicked” title two-peat, Langman insists she is enjoying her dream job while she can. “There’s nothing better than playing sport, man,’’ she says, in typically positive fashion. “It’s a fairytale, and you want it to go forever, but unfortunately it can’t.’’

For now, it is enough that is going again. Much less a case of sorry, than one of welcome back.