Looking to Longbottom for a lift in spirits

Will Knight Columnist

By , Will Knight is a Roar Expert

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    The post-mortem on the Wallabies’ woeful end to the year against Scotland is dead to me. The knives have been driven deep, and deservedly so.

    On the back of a long-awaited win over the All Blacks, the European tour had the potential to prove Australia’s swagger had returned. And all without Israel Folau and David Pocock.

    But the Wallabies were outclassed by England and bullied at Murrayfield.

    It caps a year in which the administration of the game – nationally as well as provincially – vied with the on-field performances from Australia’s Super Rugby teams and Wallabies to see who could leave the nation’s rugby fans the most exasperated.

    In a video montage reflecting on Australian rugby in 2017, a decent chunk could be put to Benny Hill music. Or perhaps a moody Nick Cave composition.

    Is there something that can give us a momentary boost? A quick, easily digestible pop tune that can make things seem not-so-bad at least for a little while? Something from Ed Sheeran or Bruno Mars?

    Maurice Longbottom makes his debut for Australia’s Sevens team in the opening round of the World Series this weekend in Dubai. He might just be the pin-up pop star that Australian rugby can celebrate over the next few months.

    His footwork is freakish and his jet-shoes make him a weapon in the short format.

    Many rugby fanatics would’ve seen his try at the Munich Sevens in late September. It’s a cracker.

    The commentator even has a dig at Russell Crowe as Longbottom used to play rugby league in the juniors for the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

    It’s a good story.

    Born and raised in Sydney’s La Perouse, he was asked by his cousin to head up to the Ella Sevens tournament in Coffs Harbour.

    He killed it, being named player of the tournament and was swiftly on the radar of Australian coach Andy Friend.

    Less than a year later, he got his first go in an Australian jersey and was carving up.

    Longbottom was a huge reason why Australia won the Munich and Silicon Valley Sevens titles over the past couple of months.

    Of course they’re weaker events than what he’ll face in the World Series – a lot of the top players from the dominant nations missed those two tournaments.

    But Longbottom’s explosiveness and party tricks alone are enough to get rugby fans switching on in anticipation of him potentially making defenders look silly.

    Jerry Tuwai, Carlin Isles, Perry Baker, Seabelo Senatla, Dan Norton and Cecil Afrika are a few of the more recent standouts in the World Series whose elusiveness and speed are eye-catching.

    Australia also have a few other youngsters who are powerful and skilful. Lachlie Anderson, Tim Anstee and Simon Kennewell are raw but are on the right trajectory to make them consistent game-breakers.

    Longbottom is one of the pocket rockets whose diminutive size means he’s unlikely to make the transition to top-level fifteen-a-side rugby – certainly not as a winger given how big and powerful the prototype has become.

    Maurice Longbottom

    (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

    One of rugby’s virtues is that any size or shape can get a gig somewhere. Given he was told he was too small to cut it in the NRL, it’s one worth acknowledging again for Longbottom, despite finding his niche in the seven-a-side format.

    But he just might become that player that gets Australian rugby fans excited over the next few months. This season, Lukhan Tui and Jack Dempsey bruised at times. Marika Koroibete made his mark.

    Jordan Uelese showed a glimpse of more to come. Sean McMahon was brilliant. Samu Kerevi came up short of expectations again.

    But with the Sydney Sevens in late January, Longbottom is the type of young hot-stepper that will get Aussie rugby diehards talking.

    By then the Wallabies’ woeful end to a forgettable year will be a distant memory.

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.