Mental and physical pain fuel Stewart

Sunny skies: Brett Stewart at Manly’s media day at Brookvale Oval on Monday. Photo: Marco Del Grande Still scarred: Brett Stewart walks away from David Gallop after Manly’s win in the 2011 grand final. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Grand final week: Read The Manly Mirror

Has Brett Stewart moved on?

For two years, he allowed David Gallop to live rent-free in his head, and on grand final day in 2011 it frothed to the surface.

Brett and his older brother Glenn made a very public statement in front of millions of people that night, even if Gallop was the only one who could hear it.

”You owe me an apology,” Brett told the former NRL chief executive on the stage as he collected his premiership ring following Manly’s win over the Warriors.

Glenn had told Gallop minutes earlier: ”You owe my family an apology.”

The ugly events of the past – from Brett being charged with sexual assault following the club’s season launch in 2009, to when he sobbed in the dock following his acquittal in September 2010, to Manly’s war with Gallop and the NRL throughout 2011 – seemed an eternity ago as the players stood in the middle of Brookvale Oval on Monday to talk to the media.

”It’s gone, I suppose,” said back-rower Anthony Watmough, whose bridal party featured both brothers. ”You’d have to ask them if they’ve let it go. I’m pretty sure they’ve let it go. David [Gallop] has gone and they’re playing great footy. I can’t comment on how he [Brett] is feeling.”

Brett and Glenn brushed aside any questions about that moment, which is entirely understandable. It was a chapter the Stewart family is more than entitled to forget.

”It will always be there, somewhere,” coach Geoff Toovey said. ”They’re humans and they can’t forget what went on. It was very tough for them, they’re tough individuals and they come from a very good family. While they haven’t forgotten about it, they’ve moved on.”

Yet the scar tissue remains, according to those at the Sea Eagles.

There’s certainly a belief from those in control of the game at the time that Manly didn’t let the matter rest soon enough, to the detriment of Brett Stewart, who struggled to leave his house because of the pressure that came from untested sexual assault charges.

The Sea Eagles were enraged when the NRL suspended Stewart for a month for being intoxicated at the club launch at the Wharf Bar, even though management had backflipped on an early decision to suspend him following a directive from its board. As other clubs seemingly slapped their players on the wrist for appalling off-field behaviour, Manly seethed at the lack of consistency.

When Stewart was acquitted, they wanted an apology. They wanted it from Gallop. It was an apology that never came.

Des Hasler, Manly’s coach at the time, went so far as to claim this: ”His soul hasn’t been cleansed because the game hasn’t apologised to him.”

It was an extraordinary statement from a coach who would throw himself in front of the Manly Ferry to save one of his players.

Indeed, he’s shown similarly devoted care for Ben Barba – another troubled fullback, albeit in entirely different circumstances – this season at Canterbury.

Whether the decision to turn Stewart against the NRL was wise is an arguable point.

The great shame of it is we will never really come to know one of the game’s most gifted players, who is adored by young fans because of his speed and should have played more representative football were it not for injury.

The latest one wasn’t his knee. It was his hamstring, and they’re the most slippery of all soft tissue injuries to handle.

Stewart admitted on Monday he was furious that Toovey didn’t play him against Cronulla in their epic semi-final.

Having watched his side survive, Stewart fumbled a high ball early against South Sydney in Friday night’s preliminary final, but then turned it on.

Glenn’s left-foot grubber kick presented his little brother with a try. In the second half, little brother deftly held up a pass from dummy half for hooker Matt Ballin to score the try that dragged the Sea Eagles back into the match.

They are big plays, in big matches, and the Stewarts have done them as much as any player who takes the field in Sunday night’s grand final.

”He’ll be the first to say he wasn’t at his best,” was Toovey’s assessment on Monday of this fullback. ”But geez … he was handy.”

When Manly won the premiership in 2011, the board was at war with itself. It still is.

When board members came in for the team photo, it wasn’t lost on anyone that positions were taken according to faction.

Darrell Williams, who has made a racial vilification claim against another director, Rick Penn, stood on the left. Peter Peters, who last month took out an interim AVO against Williams, stood on the right.

The premiership trophy stood in the middle. ”Don’t touch it,” Toovey ordered his players.

Winning the premiership for the third time may help Brett Stewart move on, just a little bit further.

But he will never forget.

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