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Merryn Anderson

English Rose blooms downunder

Laura Malcom (right) has traded the English red dress to the red and black of the Tactix - and has now been selected in the Roses' World Cup team. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

As the Tactix go their separate ways with their ANZ Premiership season over, centre Laura Malcolm heads home to the UK, before a special trip to South Africa. 

Laura Malcolm’s brave move to the other side of the world paid off well before an unforgettable phone call came through. 

At the age of 32, Malcolm will make her Netball World Cup debut for the England Roses in July, after spending a season with the Mainland Tactix this year to further grow her game. 

When the 53-capped midcourter’s phone rang a couple of weeks ago, with England head coach Jess Thirlby on the line, Malcolm demanded the news straight away. 

“I told her off last time for faffing around and talking to me, so I’m like ‘Give me the information, in or not in?’,” Malcolm laughs. 

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Even before making the squad, Malcolm felt she'd learned and grown so much from her season in New Zealand, especially with the high calibre of competition in the tightly-contested ANZ Premiership this year. 

She’s still lost for words about what the chance to represent her country in Cape Town this July means to her. “I'm just really happy and feel really proud and can’t wait to get out there and get going with the Roses.” 

In New Zealand since February, Malcolm says it’s been “really weird” being so far away from the English team before a pinnacle event. She was worried she might not make the squad due to her distance from the UK. 

“I know how competitive it is in our squad, there are just so many good players, there are so many good midcourters,” she says (Jade Clarke - who incidentally played two seasons for the Tactix - has 200 international caps to her name). 

Malcolm surrounded by Silver Ferns, some becoming teammates this year. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

Nursing a hot water bottle in the chill of Christchurch, Malcolm explains the opportunity to play overseas was always something she’d hoped to do, to experience a different style of coaching, playing and thinking within the game. 

“When I spoke to Mitts [Tactix coach Marianne Delaney-Hoshek], there was so much talk about a growth mindset,” Malcolm says. 

“That’s just something that really hits home with me and is one of my core values. It just really felt right, so I just took ‘em up and I went for it.” 

A couple of days before leaving for New Zealand, Malcolm’s partner proposed - “I think he got scared,” she jokes. He managed to visit her for a few weeks mid-season.  

She’ll be heading back to England and her fiancé soon, after the Tactix just missed out on the ANZ Premiership elimination final. 

It’s been a season of opposites for Malcolm, spending the New Zealand winter adjusting to not only the Kiwi style of play, but how the Kiwi culture affects game day. 

“Everyone’s very chilled, I’ll say that for free,” laughs Malcolm. 

“It's a different vibe and it’s been good for me actually. Even just around games, I’m very used to really hyping up, and lots of noise, energy and then going on to perform. 

“These guys have elements of that but actually it’s just very much turning up to do business, a little bit calmer and a lot more chilled. That was something really, really weird for me when I first came here.” 

Malcolm initially wasn’t sure whether to bring her energy, or embrace the calm nature of the Tactix. 

“I've eventually brought some little bits [of energy] in. But I found it nice coming into games being quite calm and still trying to turn up when it comes to the actual crunch time,” she says. 

“It’s done me some good in terms of my attack and how I go on court. It’s given me things to think about in terms of my match prep.” 

The bubbly and chatty middie has been living with her Tactix teammates Greer Sinclair and Aliyah Dunn - different ends of the spectrum in terms of energy and personality, where Malcolm loves being in the middle.

Another balancing act is the different style of play the Kiwis are known for - their zone defence. Malcolm is used to the man-on-man defence, and has primarily been known as a wing defence in England. 

Out of the 780 minutes Malcolm played of the ANZ Premiership, she played wing defence for just eight of them - spending the other 712 minutes at centre. 

“It’s been great to play a lot of centre this season, there’s no denying that. Back home, I’m seen by a lot of clubs as a wing defence, so coming out here and playing centre has been really good,” she says. 

With Kimiora Poi also playing a less familiar position at wing attack, Malcolm says it’s been great to figure out their new roles together. 

“I think getting in that centre position has definitely been something I might not have got back home and I really have appreciated and enjoyed out here,” Malcolm says. 

Malcolm spent most of her time at centre with the Tactix, proving herself in the role. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

While she anticipated and expected the contrasting styles of play to be a challenge for her, Malcolm embraced the opportunity to add new skills to her repertoire. 

“I’ve played in that style for a very, very long time so attacking-wise, you get used to attacking against that and defensively, you get used to running those defensive lines as well,” she says of the man-on-man defence she’s used to. 

“So coming over here, especially at the Tactix, it’s like polar opposites. We do do some bits of that man-on-man style, but it’s a lot about the space and confusing it and how we create intercepts for each other. 

“It’s been great to get used to feeding with it, to seeing where the space is in comparison to when somebody’s really on the body. So I’ve been working on polar opposites but it's a challenge I knew I was going to get and a challenge I’ve really enjoyed working through.” 

Malcolm's first pinnacle event with the Roses was last year's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, where they eventually lost to the Silver Ferns, 55-48, in the bronze medal match. 

Not playing with or against any of her Roses teammates was initially seen by Malcolm as a negative, and a barrier to making the Roses squad, but it turned into a positive. 

“The defenders here in general are just bigger, taller, can cover more space,” she explains. 

“So even when teams try and replicate that style at home, I don’t think they can do it in the same way because they haven’t actually got the physique to do that. 

“I’ve loved it, I’ve really enjoyed trying to figure that out and work against that and I think it’s improved throughout the season.” 

Playing against the zone defence weekly has also prepared her for going up against different styles of play at the World Cup. 

“I think the way I’ve been attacking through this zonal play and seeing the spaces, both in where I move as an attacker and where I see the space for feeding as well is where I’ve really improved,” she says. 

“That's really something you just cannot get at home.” 

Malcolm at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Photo: Getty Images

A self-described “massive netball geek”, Malcolm can’t wait to be involved in her first World Cup. 

“I’m always watching netball across the board and I feel very, very privileged to have experienced and trained with some great players in the Ferns,” she says. 

“How often do you get these opportunities? It’s so rare, so it’s been a real privilege.” 

Malcolm also feels lucky to have competed in such a close league, with the ANZ Premiership elimination finalists not known until the last game of the season (the Tactix taking the Mystics into extra time). 

“How cool is it the league is so tight? It’s just wicked because we just don’t get that at home,” she says. 

“Every game has mattered from the very start of the season, so that experience in itself is just amazing. You can’t replicate that in any sort of way. So that’s a credit to the league itself, it’s really great.” 

Malcolm is obviously backing the Roses to win their first Netball World Cup - their best result was second in 1975, with three consecutive third-place finishes since 2011. 

“Looking across the board, I’m thinking there’s a lot of strength everywhere to be honest with you,” says Malcolm. 

“I think it’s going to be a really good World Cup, and yeah, I can’t wait to get going. It's as simple as that.” 

As for her plans for next year? Malcolm laughs when asked if the Tactix might tempt her back for another season. 

“We’ve not really had any conversations about it as of yet, but I have had a really great year,” she says. 

“The girls are lovely and the club has been very supportive to me so we will just wait and see, I’ve definitely enjoyed my time.” 

Right now, Malcolm’s focus is on the Netball World Cup - she admits that even her wedding isn’t in her thoughts yet. 

But it’s her focus and commitment to netball that’s paid off, with her ticket to Cape Town just two months away.  

*The ANZ Premiership elimination final between the Pulse and the Stars is this Sunday, with coverage from 3.30pm on Sky Sport 1 and free-to-air on Prime. 

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