The Western Force weren’t the only ones who were back to start the Rapid Rugby showcase.
When watching Maurice Longbottom light up the rugby field, the first thing that comes to mind is ‘talent’.
He’s even referred to as a ‘freak of nature’ because more often than not, he would leave the most experienced of campaigners clutching at thin air.
Very few people would truly understand the sacrifice and hard-work it’s taken for Longbottom to achieve what he has in such a short period of time.
His seamless transition into the world of Rugby Sevens has been extraordinary but as most people are aware, talent is certainly not enough.
When he first arrived at Australian Rugby Sevens training, Longbottom compared it to being “back at his first day of school”. He sauntered around the training paddock completely clueless as to what he had to do.
He didn’t even own a rugby ball.
While jaws would drop when seeing his lightning-quick feet burn opposition defenders, it wasn’t until he was asked to throw a line-out that he realised how out of touch he was with Rugby Sevens.
“I felt like I was at a party and everyone was wearing black and I was wearing white,” he said. “I just felt like I stood out and I was just standing there and was thinking – what do I do here?”
That moment, he left training and bought himself his first rugby ball before taking his girlfriend to the park to help practice his accuracy.
But Longbottom’s desire to self-improve came long before he was invited to trial for the Australian Rugby Sevens side.
It was back in 2015 when he first started training with Kevin Heath at Dream Time Academy, who along with his partner Samantha has worked closely alongside Longbottom. Each plays an instrumental role in his professional development on and off the field.
The Rugby Sevens star would train six times a week even when being a professional athlete wasn’t even in his frame of mind.
His motivation was simple – he just wanted to get faster.
He later sacrificed his work as a ‘chippy’ to pursue a rugby career that wasn’t guaranteed, but when Longbottom sets his eyes on something, more often than not he gets it.
Dream Time Academy Founder Kevin Heath said of Longbottom, “I remember when he first started we were just doing straight lines, 40 metres sprints, parachute sprints and basically just running.”
“At the start, he just wanted to get quick and then he started on his change of direction – there are not many people that can do what he can do when he gets the ball and he accelerates in a split second.
“Then I remember he played a Souths Juniors game shortly after, and with his first touch he stepped someone straight under the posts for the first try.”
Longbottom always carried an array of confidence when he played Oztag socially with his mates, and although he carried the burden of being the best player on the park in every game he played – he rarely felt overwhelmed by the experience.
But that all changed when he first lined up for Australia in Dubai, and as he prepared to run out for the biggest game of his life, something instantly switched when he first laid eyes on the opposition.
Someone who is so naturally talented and had worked tirelessly to earn himself a chance to represent his country suddenly doubted himself for the first time in his life.
Longbottom admitted, “When I get into the tunnel and I see the other team I tell myself that I’m not good enough to be here, I just question myself,” Longbottom admitted.
“Its just a mental battle I fight with myself and it only started in Dubai [in the World Rugby 7’s Series].
“I’ve done a bit of work with someone at training, she tells me just to touch the ground when I run out and bring myself back down to the ground.
“And before every game ‘Friendy’ comes up to me and says ‘you’re good enough to be here, go do what you do and go out and kill it.”
While he battled his mental demons as he ran out onto the field, the moment he got his hands on the ball – the rest was history.
His blistering run of form saw him earn a three-year contract with the ARU, and he hasn’t thought twice about his ability since.
It was a career-defining moment for Longbottom when he signed his first full-time contract with Australian rugby.
He admits it was the first-time he genuinely embraced the countless hours of hard work and quickly became overwhelmed with emotion.
While the hype around Longbottom grew emphatically over the following months, he soon became the cornerstone of Australia’s desire for World Series dominance.
But as he enjoyed stellar success and a rapid rise to rugby stardom, his world quickly came crashing down when he landed awkwardly in a tackle in Hamilton.
Longbottom had suffered syndesmosis to his left-ankle which ruled him out for the remaining games of the tournament. He was later unable to travel with his teammates to Vancouver and Las Vegas for the remaining World Series fixtures.
“It was devastating, it just cut me down and I was in a bad place there,” he said. “I felt like I let the team down, but then I had a couple of the boys come up to me and started to get back into a good headspace.”
While it wasn’t Longbottom’s first injury, he quickly became enthralled in unfamiliar territory with his spot in the Commonwealth Games in doubt.
But that’s where Kevin, Samantha and his mother, Missy – undoubtedly his biggest fan – played a pivotal role in his comeback to the rugby field.
Kevin says goal-setting is a significant part of the work he does with his athletes at Dream Time Academy which includes focusing on improvement off the field.
For Longbottom, it was about maintaining focus on the things he can control rather than the external things he can’t.
“What boosts ‘Moz’ to keep pushing is when he sees progress and when he sees himself achieve his own goals,” Kevin said. “For him, when he was first injured [it was hard] to change his mindset to think how he’s going to beat it, but he’s gone from making these big goals and then adapts to make little goals. When he sees improvement, he just grows and grows.”
With Longbottom back and ready to fire at the Commonwealth games this weekend, his motivation to succeed is stronger than ever.
He has his sights firmly set on winning a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, and eventually the Olympics in 2020.
“Not everyone can say they’ve played in the Olympics [or Commonwealth Games]. How many people can say their job is to go out and try to win a gold medal?” he said.
For Longbottom, the reality of his career still hasn’t fully kicked in.
“I’ll have to pinch myself when I run out because it’s just going to blow my mind.”