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There is a sad truth when it comes to Brett Stewart – the “Prince of Brookvale” and one of the greatest players to pull on a boot for Manly.
The way his NRL journey panned out was anything but princely. In fact, he could be excused for not wanting to have played the game at all, had he known how things would play out.
That’s not a journalist musing. Those who know him best understand the pain he has been through and say that’s how he feels. The feeling has not subsided over time. He rarely talks publicly but said this when prompted by this column: “I love the game of rugby league, its people, the mates that I made and our team’s success but, sadly, my life was forever changed from the events of 2009.”
The events he refers to were traumatic. He was accused of sexual assault after Manly’s season launch. The claims were found to be baseless in 2010 when a jury found him not guilty of one charge of sexual assault and two charges of indecent assault.
I’ll never forget interviewing a teary Stewart surrounded by supporters at the end of the ordeal. It was tough dealing with a man who had had his life ripped apart by a false accusation. It stays with him to this day.
It has meant living a simple, low-profile life where he doesn’t have to deal with the stares of strangers. A world where football, his profile and that accusation didn’t exist would be worth everything to him.
Brett Stewart (right) was acquitted of sexual assault charges in 2010.Credit: Tim Clayton
Stewart has remained silent since he was again thrust into the headlines in March, after being found with cocaine in his possession on a night out. It was his doing, his decision, his fault. It is why he pleaded guilty in Manly Local Court on May 3.
But, at long last, he is taking steps towards living his life in a better way. He is doing things he should have done years ago. But he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to take those steps until recently.
He knows, with the help of medical professionals, it is time to take control of his life again.
“I’ve made some significant steps forward in my mental health, and that journey is just beginning,” he said.
In 2008, Stewart and Billy Slater were the faces of rugby league. Then Stewart’s life changed. Slater is now Queensland coach and a commentary star for the Nine Network. Stewart has a part-time specialist coaching role at Manly. He hates the cameras and attention, but he was prepared to offer me a few thoughts. He hates the glaring eyes and what people may think of him.
He won premierships with Manly in 2008 and 2011, scoring 163 tries in just 233 NRL games, but mud sticks. Stewart could be one of the game’s best coaches, but we may never know his ability.
Hopefully, by taking control of his health and his life, we may see him evolve in the next phase of his career, perhaps even as a head coach.
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Bradman Best and Daniel Saifiti are two of the Knights’ biggest names, but rival clubs have heard whispers they could be available.
The Knights are not pushing them out the door, but the feeling is if someone came knocking, they’d listen to what they had to say.
Rival teams have heard Newcastle are open for business as they need to overhaul a roster heavily influenced by the mammoth salary of superstar Kalyn Ponga. Some say he may be on more than $1.5 million next year, which would make him the highest-paid player in the game. You have to wonder if he was an option in their roster reboot.
The Roosters are starting to question whether Brandon Smith is right for the club. And it’s nothing to do with his off-field actions, where he has been faultless.
His dealings with the media and sponsors have also been first class. It’s what he is doing — or not doing — on the field that is the issue.
Smith is one of the most damaging running forwards in the game close to the line, but his service out of dummy-half is a concern. The Roosters have spoken to him about it, and getting to the actual ruck area.
The club has invested heavily in Smith and need him to be a key part of their title push. It was more than interesting that he started off the bench in Friday night’s heavy loss to the Panthers, while bargain buy Jake Turpin moved into the run-on side.
Smith was a notable omission from the starting side and the Roosters’ dreadful performance in the 48-4 humiliation will only add to the questions being asked about their key off-season signing. Nothing in this column item will be a surprise to Smith.
The Roosters can handle all the criticism they have been getting about Joseph Suaalii. What they won’t accept are suggestions they have not looked after the young man.
The Roosters have gone above and beyond with Suaalii. More so than almost any other player. Whether it’s the way they have engaged with his parents, spent time at their charity, or just looked after Suaalii with “club mum” and executive manager of club operations Cathy King doting on him, it has been more than any player could expect.
It’s why they are not happy with the man who blindsided them with Suaalii’s monster rugby deal, agent Isaac Moses.
Rugby union-bound Roosters star Joseph Suaalii.Credit: Getty
South Sydney are privately revelling in the heat being applied to the Roosters. South Sydney knew the Roosters would lose patience with the hype surrounding Suaalii’s move and look to release him early to move to rugby in 2024. Despite the denials from the Roosters, I can confirm it was discussed.
Souths can take the high ground because they refused to bow to the clauses Suaalii’s camp wanted in his contract that make him a free agent effectively all the time.
The worst part for the Roosters is the way chairman Nick Politis stuck his neck out to organise a meeting for Moses with ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys to help get Moses back into rugby league following his ban in 2021. Politis feels badly let down by Moses. He has not talked to him since and wants to have nothing more to do with Moses or his clients.
Eddie’s a Robbo fan
Far from being threatened by Hamish McLennan’s appreciation of Roosters coach Trent Robinson, Eddie Jones is encouraged by it. McLennan would welcome Robinson into rugby.
The Wallabies coach has had a fair bit to do with Robinson and would welcome him to rugby one day if Robinson ever wanted to switch.
Michael Cheika has worked with Robinson and has shown how to coach across two sports.
Jones has been in league circles during the week, spending time with Anthony Seibold at Brookvale and with Frank Ponissi in Melbourne.
Many Pappy returns
There has been plenty of chatter in the past week that Storm star Ryan Papenhuyzen could be out for the year because of his knee injury. I contacted him and he assured me he was aiming to be back on the field this season. Storm insiders are nominating July as a possible return timeframe.
Jack Bird is a unique character; the type the NRL needs more of.
When he found out I was chasing a story that he had been ringing rival clubs to get out of the Dragons, he called me to say it wasn’t true – despite multiple sources telling me otherwise.
I’m happy to take his word for it. He says he is committed to the Dragons for next year and has a mutual option for the year after.
When he was at the Broncos he took it upon himself to ring other clubs, and this was reported in the News Corp media at the time. Bird was cranky about that story as well.
After decades as the face of the TAB, Glenn Munsie has disappeared from the role. He is very well known in racing and betting circles, and we have had a number of inquiries regarding his whereabouts. It is understood he is working out his departure.
“After 23 years I’ve been made redundant,” Munsie said. “I’m going to spend more time with my family … work on my golf handicap and hope Souths keep winning. I’m definitely not retiring.”
Plenty of top cricketers are also handy golfers and most of the Australian men’s team travel with their clubs.
Superstar husband and wife duo Mitchell Starc and Alyssa Healy are no different, the pair playing each other annually for their self-created year-long “Stealy Cup”. Healy is the reigning champion.
Alyssa Healy and Mitchell Starc are no slouches on the golf course.Credit: Getty
The pair will hit the links again on Thursday when they headline the Cricket NSW Foundation Golf Day at Bonnie Doon. Tee times can be booked at cricketnsw.com.au.
You do the MAFS
Nine sports host Danika Mason has a great sense of humour, and just as well.
Scouts from Married at First Sight slipped into the Instagram direct messages of her fiance Todd Liubinskas to see if he was interested in a role.
Todd is the son of former Wests star Mick Liubinskas. Mason features heavily on his page, so the inquiry was curious. The couple will tie the knot this year, so MAFS will need to look elsewhere.
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