When New Zealand international Laura Langman first arrived at NSW Swifts headquarters in preparation for season 2016, teammate Sharni Layton figured an initiation was in order.
Renowned for her work ethic and considered one of the club’s fittest players, Layton chose the team’s first fitness session to test out the new recruit.
Swifts captain Kim Green picks up the story: “‘Sharn’ really prides herself on working super hard (and) thought she would take it up to ‘Lauz’ and show her the Swifts ropes.
“She failed pretty miserably.
“I think within 10 minutes of trying to keep up with her, (Layton) was like ‘yeah mate, you go’. Lauz lapped all of us about three times.
“I always knew that she was a really talented player and I knew that she worked hard on her craft just from the word on the street, but no one actually mentioned what a freak she is.”
It was a solid first impression from the star Silver Fern, who broke ranks by signing with the successful Australian franchise last August.
At the time, she described the move as the “opportunity of a lifetime”. Now the 30-year-old is preparing for her second ANZ Championship decider and will play a key role in the midcourt for the underdogs.
The Swifts will be out to turn the tables in Sunday’s grand final rematch after going down in a one-goal thriller against the Queensland Firebirds in 2015.
Swifts coach Rob Wright believes his team has made a number of significant improvements since that heartbreaker; improvements in which Langman has played no small part.
“She has added a whole lot both on and off the court,” Wright said.
“She’s just an absolute professional in terms of her preparation and going about her business so I think she’s really continued to push the standards that we expect.
“She really brings her teammates along with her off and on the court (and) that’s a real skill.”
Green echoed her coach’s sentiments and said personally Langman had taken her “game to a new level”.
As Green’s deputy, Langman also played a vital leadership role throughout the season while the former Australian Diamond recovered from a knee injury.
“Lauz really took over the reigns when I was injured and doing all the extras on the sideline,” Green said.
“She was really taking the team to the next level on court when I couldn’t be there.
“She brings so much to this team. It’s not a personal thing for her, it’s always about the team and that’s what I love about her.”
While the Langman effect is strong with Green, Wright insists the rewards have been mutual.
“I think there’s a Langman effect and a Green effect as well,” said Wright.
“For so long they’ve been fierce rivals on court and to team up I think has actually pushed both of them to new levels which has just been a massive positive for our team.”
Wright credited Green’s “feeding skills and ability around the circle” with helping improve Langman’s game while Langman’s hallmark defence and work across the transverse line has pushed the career-Swift to new heights.
These skills will need to peak at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on Sunday afternoon as the Swifts aim to reverse the 11-goal loss suffered at the Firebirds’ hands almost a fortnight ago.
Wright has also called on improved consistency, noting the Queenslanders had punished his side during short but too frequent lapses throughout the recent contest.
The grand final will be the last for the ANZ Championship. After nine seasons, the trans-Tasman contest will make way for a new Australian-only competition, to start in February 2017.
Although there are still many questions to be answered, Wright concedes he will not be able to retain his current squad next year. Every Swifts player is off-contract at the end of this season.
“It isn’t only the end of an era for this competition, it’s the end of an era for this playing group,” he said.
ANZ Championship Grand Final
Queensland Firebirds v NSW Swifts
- Sunday 31 July, 12pm
- Brisbane Entertainment Centre
- Broadcast LIVE on Fox Sports 3, Channel 10 and Sky Sport NZ
- Also available to Australian residents via the official Netball Live App