O'Donnell in a league of his own

Mens - Las Vegas
by Sam Phillips

Ben O'Donnell was always going to be a rugby player, he didn't really have any choice.

Rugby league was the first sport that caught O'Donnell's eye, playing the 13-man game from the age of four in Sydney's east.

But if he was to have his rugby mad family's support, switching to the 15-man game was his only choice.

"Dad hated that," O'Donnell said of his flirtation with rugby league.

"He was a rugby man all his life so he didn't even use to come and watch me play league - he used to say "I'll come watch you when you start union".

"That next year I was down at Clovelly Crocodiles - a fierce name - and then the Clovelly Eagles later on - even scarier."

That was the start of an unusual path to Australian Sevens stardom, a spot O'Donnell finds himself in after a stellar start to 2018.

Most Sevens players are schoolboys stars that take an alternate path to the professional realm but O'Donnell was spotted by coach Andy Friend at a Uni Games tournament that was little more than a laugh for all involved.

"It was a bit of fun more than footy tournament - it was just an excuse to play with my mates and catch up with blokes I hadn't seen for a while," O'Donnell said.

"When we played that we won it and a few of us got invited to turn up to the Australian Universities trial.

"That's where I fell in love with the game - a lot of space, I'm sort of quick so I tried to use that as much as I could - and then from there I played down in Adelaide.

"That's the first time I met Friendy.

"I remember him telling me on day one after our first couple of games - we had three good wins and he just said to me "you're doing well, keep going".

"That's all I heard from him, I didn't even really know who he was until he introduced himself and then I got player of the tournament and Friendy signed me up from there."

O'Donnell now has four tournament caps to his name and in that short space of time, he's shown more than enough to suggest he will be a cornerstone of the team for years to come.

The Sydney 7s was a special tournament on both for the rising star on both a team and personal front, as he was one of the stars of their title winning run.

"The Sydney 7s was a huge step for us," O'Donnell said.

"It's been six years since we've won so we have talked about capturing the flame, capturing that moment.

"We just want to keep that momentum in the front of our minds, rolling through the rest of the World Series, Commonwealth Games and the World Cup."

The Las Vegas Sevens kicks off on Friday March 2 local, Saturday March 3 AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS.

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