Standing on the corner of one of Sydney’s busiest intersections, with towering skyscrapers stretching high and the chaos of the early morning rush all around her, Silver Fern star Laura Langman is radiating happiness.
“How great is this?” the former farm girl from Te Pahu asks cheerfully, taking it all in as she points out some of her favourite sights and spots. “I’m a long, long way from Hamilton now.”
It was only five months ago that the Silver Fern vice-captain was in tears in her new Sydney apartment, questioning if she’d made the right decision to take up a contract with the New South Wales Swifts and leave her beloved husband Adrian Pooley (37) in New Zealand.
But now, despite the continuing struggle of being away from her man, family, friends and home, Laura says she’s unbelievably happy and has no regrets about accepting the contract that proved so controversial in netball circles.
“Don’t get me wrong, every time Adrian leaves me here and gets on a plane to go home, there are tears every time,” she says with a small, sad smile.
“But this experience – living overseas, pushing myself with a new team and doing things by myself – has been so incredibly awesome. I knew it would be a massive adjustment because I’m such a country bumpkin, but I’ve just made myself embrace everything.
"A change is as good as a rest and I’m not very good at resting, so change it was!”
And there’s no denying that Laura, who has played an incredible 131 consecutive games for the Ferns, is definitely a changed woman. Well, apart from the strong Kiwi accent and the usual self-deprecating sense of humour.
When the Weekly’s photographer asks her to perform a Baywatch-style hair flick as she poses in front of Sydney’s iconic Opera House, she bursts into peals of laughter.
“I think you’ve probably got the wrong girl for that, mate,” she giggles. “I haven’t changed that much!”
But after a season of playing what is arguably the best netball of her career, Laura’s not only gained more skills, but confidence, independence and, perhaps most importantly, clarity about what the future holds for her – on and off the court.
“It’s been a great experience on all fronts and that’s what I’m about,” she explains. “The growth I’ve done here has been massive."
"I never got to live overseas when I was younger, I was always playing netball. And while it was hard leaving Adrian, this is something I’ve always wanted to do and the timing finally came right for me. I don’t regret it for a second.”
The distance from Adrian, a sports science technician at Waikato Institute of Technology, has been difficult, concedes Laura, though they see each other about once a month.
“Massive kudos needs to go to him for making this work,” she says thoughtfully. “He just makes things happen and also makes things okay. He’s the ultimate rock."
"He came over to set me up, and when I had a real scary moment in the beginning, where the level of expectation smashed me in the face and I thought, ‘What the hell have I done?’, having him tell me that I had to stop crying and front up was so crucial.”
Whether it’s been Laura returning home during the weeks where the Swifts have played Kiwi franchises or Adrian visiting Laura in the flat she shares with teammates Maddi Turner and Steph Wood, the couple, who married in 2014, have made it work.
“Every time he’d come over, he cooked a roast, which was amazing. We decided early on that FaceTime wasn’t for us – I hated it,” Laura says, screwing up her nose.
“I prefer to just chat on the phone! But it’s the little things you miss – not having him there when I come home or movie dates. Although I don’t want this adventure to end, I’m desperately ready to go home and be with my lovely man.”
However, there has been plenty to do in Sydney to distract Laura – notwithstanding her gruelling three-times-a-week training sessions.
“That’s the thing about Sydney, there’s just so much on all the time!” she tells excitedly.
“I’ve been to concerts, Nitro Circus, the drive-in movies and there’s a cool Bondi-to-Coogee walk I’ve done heaps. I thought I should fully immerse myself in it, do everything people suggest and just get amongst it. And Maddi and Steph have been my little activity buddies, which has been great.”
No one is more surprised than Laura to learn of her new-found love for city living, when she’s happily spent most of her life on a dairy farm.
Her only other big-city experience was when she spent a season in Auckland playing for the Northern Mystics.
“I love taking the train – it’s still a novelty,” she chuckles. “But even though it’s so familiar in some ways, it’s actually quite a different culture. I have had to find substitutes for my favourite post-game treats – there are no Cookie Time biscuits over here, which sucks. Thank goodness there’s Starbucks!”
And while you wouldn’t think there would be a language barrier, Laura’s Kiwi drawl has caused a few problems when she’s tried communicating with her teammates.
“Sometimes, when I’m at training, people have to translate for me,” she says with a small frown.
“A lot of the time, people can’t understand me, so I get a bit of stick there. But it’s been so refreshing. And I’ve realised that I’ve started to say ‘mate’ a lot, so maybe I’m getting a little more Aussie!”
But with the final season of the ANZ Championship about to wrap up, and the Australian and New Zealand netball bodies splitting to form their own domestic competitions next year, Laura acknowledges she’s got some tough choices to make about her playing future.
She had to gain a special dispensation from Netball NZ to play for the Swifts this year and with the rules about eligibility for the Silver Ferns still currently murky – usually, you have to play for a New Zealand-based franchise to be able to play for the Ferns – it’s impossible to make a decision, she says.
“Everything’s up in the air,” she nods. “A lot of information needs to come out yet. To be honest, I’m not in a hurry to make a decision. I know where I’m at as a player and what I’d like to do in the next wee while, and I’m just really happy.
“Actually,” she continues, “I think this year has set me up for the next four years, and given me a good perspective of where I’m at and where I want to go. It feels like I am a 19-year-old again and I’m just starting out. I probably act like it too!”
And, of course, she’s due home in a few weeks for Silver Fern tryouts, with an action-packed international calendar ahead.
But with her love for the game rejuvenated, one thing is certain – netball will still be seeing a lot of the new and improved Laura Langman yet.
Words: Kelly Bertrand