“We’re always out to win. It’s within us — we can’t play a warm-up game without wanting to beat each other.”
That pretty much sums up the competitive nature of Manchester Thunder’s Laura Malcolm and her England Netball teammates.
But in a test series unlike all others, and against the reigning world champions no less, is there perhaps a need to adjust these lofty expectations?
“It’s important to acknowledge they’ve had more of a normal season in comparison to us,” says Malcolm, from inside England Netball’s bubble in New Zealand.
And she is not wrong – while the Netball Superleague was postponed in March and cancelled in May due to coronavirus, the ANZ Premiership reached its conclusion towards the end of August after a stoppage of ‘only’ three months.
To make matters worse, head coach Jess Thirlby is not with the Vitality Roses after testing positive for coronavirus a few days before departure.
Thirlby is asymptomatic and able to coach the team using video technology, but her absence still leaves the other coaches and senior players such as Malcolm in a position of additional responsibility.
Although Malcolm, who has been appointed co-captain alongside veteran Serena Guthrie, does not see this as a source of additional pressure.
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We are very proud to announce that our very own Laura Malcolm has been named as a Vitality Roses 🌹 co-captain for an upcoming three match test series against the Silver Ferns in New Zealand. Vitality Roses Head Coach Jess Thirlby said, "Laura is a positive, hardworking and highly motivated member of the team and has a natural ability in knowing how to get the best out of those around her. Over the last 12 months she’s proved her ability to be a leader throughout training and previous international competitions." To read the full press release, visit https://www.manchesterthunder.co.uk/vitality-roses-captaincy-announced-for-cadbury-netball-series/ ⚡ A massive well done and congratulations again Laura 👏 @ljmalcolm1 @englandnetball @nwenglandnetball @skynetball
“It’s pretty much the same. Whatever role I’m given, I’m naturally a leader on court anyway. I’ve always got a voice, I’ve always got an opinion and I want to support the people around me,” she says.
“It really doesn’t feel like our head coach isn’t here, because she’s still very much with us. We’re all used to supporting each other, and that’s always been our role, so it doesn’t feel too different to me.”
In fact, England’s preparations for the test series seem to have gone remarkably smoothly. Thirlby’s positive test was the only one through two rounds of testing in England and a further three rounds in New Zealand, over a period of several weeks which saw the team gradually increase their workload and level of close contact with each other.
And according to Malcolm, the team took this training camp with a difference in their stride. “It’s an incredibly unique situation – there’s no getting away from it. Our physio, our strength and conditioning coach, our head coach and our assistant coaches were really creative with making us build back up to netball without going straight into netball.
“We’ve had time to work on ourselves, which has put us in a position to focus on what we do best and what we want to put out there on court.”
And surely, if nothing else, it is a relief to escape quasi-lockdown conditions in England and get back to competitive netball in a country where the number of active coronavirus cases is in double figures?
Yes, but only partly. The ever-positive Malcolm looks back on 2020 more fondly than most, having spent a lot of it providing virtual coaching and fitness classes to budding netballers across the country.
“There was something uplifting about knowing everybody in the netball family was going through the same thing – everybody’s leagues got cancelled and everybody wanted to play.”
“Personally, I found it connected me to the wider netball community a bit more.”
Nevertheless, win or lose, Malcolm is grateful to the sport’s governing bodies for allowing her and her teammates to get back to what they do best.
“The fact that England Netball and New Zealand Netball have been able to pull together this test series is just incredible. There’s so much that’s gone on behind the scenes trying to make it happen and I feel privileged to be able to be here doing what I love and representing my country.”
England’s three-test series against New Zealand starts on Wednesday 28 October at 6am on Sky Sports. The second and third tests are on Friday 30 October and Sunday 1 November at the same time.