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'Told that you're too small': How Aussie 7s ace defied the odds

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Australian Sevens ace Maurice Longbottom has had to overcome unimaginable disappointment, rejection and bad luck on his way to World Series stardom.

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Human highlight reel Longbottom is one of the most popular players on this year’s Sevens circuit, with his fast feet and speed off the mark leaving rugby fans around the world in awe.

But the 28-year-old has worked hard to get to where he is today. Longbottom’s illustrious career in green and gold is a reflection of his perseverance and determination.

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Baseball Hall of Famer Babe Ruth famously said that it’s impossible to “beat a person who never gives up”, and Longbottom’s story is a testament to that.

Following in the footsteps of his uncles George and Bruce, Longbottom attempted to make his mark in rugby league with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

But after coming through the representative ranks with South Sydney, Longbottom’s dreams were crushed due to his height.

His rugby league career was over before it’d even begun.

“As a young kid playing rugby league, my uncles played for Souths growing up and watching them, that’s all I wanted to do was play for Souths,” Longbottom told RugbyPass.

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“Coming through the junior reps… to be told that you’re ‘too small’, it’s quite disheartening. It does put this disbelief in your own head and doubt, and not the most positive talk for yourself.

“I just took a step away from rep footy for a bit, just focusing on working, having a bit of fun on the weekend, playing footy with my mates on the weekend.”

But when one door closes, another one opens – life can be funny like that.

Longbottom had only played one match of rugby union growing up, and there were uncontested scrums and lineouts. In his own words, he said it was “pretty much” rugby league.

Yet, an opportunity to play at the prestigious 2015 Ella 7s in Coffs Harbour saw the speedster make a seamless transition to the rival code.

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Not only did Longbottom win the event, but he was also named the Player of the Tournament. Clearly, he was a player to watch going forward – and others agreed.

“At the time I got picked to go down to Adelaide to play in the Llyod McDermott team, and the Aussie Sevens coach was there at the time, and actually invited me to training for three days,” he added.

“Funny enough, on the first day I made a break and pulled my hamstring. Middle of nowhere, no one was near me.

“We ended up going to Germany, we won Germany in the Munich Sevens, and it was at the end of that tournament where he said ‘you’re not going anywhere, we’re going to sign you when we get back to Sydney.’

“For that little moment there, that was the big moment for me. (When) you put your mind to it and you put some hard work in, there’s no goal you can’t achieve.”

Longbottom has taken every opportunity to don green and gold with both hands throughout his decorated career, which has included two Commonwealth Games appearances.

The Australian has become a crucial part of head coach John Manenti’s plans, and captained the team on Day Three of the Sydney Sevens last month.

Even though he’s the shortest player in the team – second shortest Henry Hutchison is 10cm taller – Longbottom hasn’t skipped a beat.

Playing with his heart on his sleeve, Longbottom is pound-for-pound one of the best players in this year’s Sevens World Series.

“These opportunities don’t come around often, so when these opportunities do come around, you have to take it. You have to make it last as long as you can.

“For me it’s staying hungry and if I’m lacking in anything, it’s making sure I’m doing everything I possibly can to get my hunger back up there.

“There’s no better way than the double Olympics.

“I’m still hungry every single day to achieve and be at the top of my game.”

The Australian Men’s Sevens team are eager to improve on their disappointing tournament in Sydney, where they were knocked out in the Cup quarterfinals by France.

Australia went on to lose their next match against Samoa as well, which has seen them drop down to eighth on the World Series standings.

“It’s disappointing. Two weeks in a row we’ve fallen short in our quarterfinal match.

“That quarterfinal game, I couldn’t fault the boys’ efforts. Everyone was putting their all in and putting their body in the line.

“It just comes down to France wanted it more than us.

“We’ve just got to be better in those areas and those pressure moments, and that’s something that we looked back on last week and something we’ve been pushing in training.

“We’ve been working fairly hard in this next little block before LA.”

Longbottom and the Men’s Sevens team will be back in action at the end of this month when the World Series heads to LA.

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