Laura Langman is rolling down her long white socks and hanging up her black dress. The most capped netballer in Silver Ferns history, is she also the G.O.A.T?
She has been a phenomenon in netball, and would be in most sports. It would be difficult to find another Kiwi athlete – woman or man – to rival Laura Langman’s astonishing record.
When it looked like her international career was over after 141 consecutive tests – and 18 months in the world netball wilderness (following her controversial ineligibility when she chose to play a season in Australia) – Langman came back to captain the Silver Ferns to the World Cup victory that was missing from her screed of achievements.
The 34-year-old has now called time on her dazzling career on the eve of the naming of the next Silver Ferns squad. She’s playing out the rest of Australia’s Super Netball season with the Sunshine Coast Lightning, and then looking for a “new adventure”.
LockerRoom has collected memories from some of those who’ve been alongside her on this one.
The long white socks:
From the first time Dame Noeline Taurua saw Langman, 15 and fizzing, she was wearing long white socks pulled up to her calves that became her trademark. “From day dot she had those socks pulled up – just one of those little special things that make her Lauz,” Taurua says.
Langman explained their origins are before her netball days – an old habit from growing up on a dairy farm in Te Pahu, south-west of Hamilton, where she’d tuck her trouser legs into her socks before putting on her gumboots.
“Even in trainings she wore them like that too,” says Taurua. “I think for her it became part of her routine, pulling up her socks and starting her work.”
Langman was a 15-year-old at Hillcrest High School when she first came onto coach Taurua’s radar trialling for the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.
“We had a game and she went up against Jenny-May [Clarkson]. Usually kids who play against Silver Ferns get overawed by them, but she just got stuck in and never backed off,” Taurua says. “She showed great promise, which was what really caught my eye.”
It’s Clarkson’s first memory of Langman, too: “Here was this kid who was wet behind the ears and I’d been around for a while. We stood on the edge of the circle and talked about the trajectory of the ball as she was putting it in to the shooter, and I told her ‘That kind of ball needs a little more spin and a little more height on it’. And then she executed it in that same game. I remember thinking ‘Wow, this kid is something special’.”
Irene van Dyk recalls Langman as a “nuggety” 16-year-old wing defence in the Magic squad. “I had to do a drill with her and I was like ‘Where are you?’ She was so fast and so strong. I said to myself, ‘Irene you are out of your depth here, this kid is going places’.”
A head for numbers:
Langman is a chartered accountant, who studied for her degree and has worked all through her netball career. But she was never hung up on her own statistics. “Are you sure they triple-checked that?” she’d say before a milestone game.
For the record: Langman played 163 tests for the Silver Ferns, and was the first New Zealand netballer to reach 150 tests. She played the first 141 of those without missing a game for the Silver Ferns between 2005 and 2016.
She won World Cup gold and three silver medals; a Youth World Cup title; two Commonwealth Games golds and one silver; one ANZ Championship title as captain of the Magic, and one Super Netball title with the Lightning.
As well as bringing her dynamic on-court skills, leadership and dedication to the Silver Ferns, Langman also brought laughter.
“As she’s got older, some of the strange words she pulls out have been really funny,” Taurua says. “Words like wakachangchang. She definitely adds lightness and humour to a team.”
In her first training session back with the Silver Ferns – after a season away from the game – Langman said: “It felt like I’d blown a huhu valve”.
Clarkson remembers interviewing Langman and her long-time team-mate Casey Kopua straight after last year’s World Cup victory. “And Laura said in her cow-cocky voice: ‘It was a bit of a bumpy ride – I had to squeeze my bum cheeks together’.”
“Although she’s a perfectionist she doesn’t take life too seriously,” van Dyk says. “She knows there’s always a time and place for laughter.”
A netball obsession:
Langman’s commitment to netball could almost be described as an obsession at times during her career. She has trained religiously, and the fact that her body has held out for 17 years of elite netball is testament to the recovery work she pours in.
I remember the eager 21-year-old preparing for her first World Cup, in Auckland in 2007, with a fractured foot (one of the rare injuries in her career). But come hell or high water, she was going to play. She got medical clearance a few hours before the first game.
“She’s gone through stages of being quite obsessive about everything she did. She was so committed to netball. But she’s more balanced now,” Taurua says.
The break she took from the game in 2018 gave her “an appreciation for other things in life – and she’s still been able to produce the goods and have balance in her life.” And finally win a World Cup.
A one-time telling-off:
Van Dyk, who was fed by Langman for most of her Silver Ferns career, recalls a test series where coach Ruth Aitken moved Langman from her usual wing defence to centre for the first time. “At some point Laura came off the circle edge too soon, and Ruth yelled at Laura ‘Stay on the circle edge!’ And I swear Laura’s eyes were so big because Ruth never yelled. And Laura never came off the circle edge again – in her career. That’s the only time I ever saw Laura got told off.”
Words to describe Langman:
Taurua: Loyal. Dogged. Tenacious. Committed. Funny.
“She’s just been a great servant of our game. She did everything to uphold the mana of wearing the Silver Fern. Whether she’s playing for the Silver Ferns or a club, the team has always come first.”
Van Dyk: Class. Integrity. Work ethic. Humorous. Humble.
“The legacy Laura leaves behind is work hard, practice what you preach, lead by example, be a Fern 24/7, lift your values and give it everything you’ve got.
“In my book, she is the all-time greatest, without a doubt.”
Her decision to retire has been more than two years in the making, Taurua says, even before she asked Langman if she would help her to win the World Cup.
Langman actually first considered ending her career back in 2015, when she got her first fulltime job as an accountant, and wanted to do something different.
“She’s been involved in netball at an elite level for half of her life, and she’s committed so much that she really hasn’t had time to live her life and do other things,” Taurua says. “It’s sad, but it’s lovely for her and [husband] Adrian. She can go surfing and skiing now, and not worry about getting injured. She’s got nothing else to prove or that she wants.
“She’s still playing amazing netball. But she’s playing for the pure joy of the game, and you couldn’t finish up any better than that.”