Why Stewart ended rugby league exile
The moment Brett Stewart's storied NRL career ended he abruptly shifted away to escape the hectic and at times painful life in Sydney.
The legendary fullback led an almost reclusive life in Melbourne.
But now he's back at Manly with his former mentor Des Hasler in a heartwarming return for a player dubbed The Prince of Brookvale.
In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with The Daily Telegraph, Stewart opened up about his glittering career, his new role at Manly alongside Hasler, the Sea Eagles' DNA, Daly Cherry-Evans, Tom Trbojevic, Brookvale Oval and brother Glenn.
Stewart retired after 2016 having scored a remarkable 163 tries in 233 games for Manly, 87 of those at his beloved Brookie.
He played eight games for NSW, scoring five tries, and one Test for Australia, crossing once.
"You look back more now than when you were playing," Stewart said. "When you're playing you think it's the norm.
"When you have a couple of beers with the boys, you reminisce about the good old days, even though it was only eight years ago we won our last premiership.
"There were some good times at the club and hopefully I can give a little bit back now. The whole team as a unit was pretty successful from 2007 right through until 2013, I guess. I was fortunate enough to be part of it.
"When you're around it every day, you forget what it actually is because you are surrounded with greatness.
"When you come out of it and look back, you think: 'Geez, what we had there was really special'."
"In our era, everyone sacrificed. It wasn't spoken about but some players had the opportunity to go elsewhere. But what we had was pretty special and it couldn't be replicated at other clubs.
"As a team and a bond, I won't say it can't be repeated but it will be a long time before it could be like we had it.
"I love the club, it has been good to me over the years. Sometimes it's more than a club - it's been home."
Stewart enjoyed proving his critics wrong.
"I had a few setbacks and I was always one that if told I couldn't do it then I would go against it and prove them wrong," he said.
"I'd say my competitive edge and nature drove me and made me do what I did every week."
SEA EAGLES DNA
Manly have endured some lean years but this is one of the oldest, finest and proudest clubs in rugby league. The Sea Eagles have won a premiership in each of the past five decades.
"I compare now with the side we had when Dessie took over in 2004," he said. "The club is in better shape than it was back then.
"Des started coaching in 2004 and we won our first premiership in 2008 and made the grand final in '07.
"Now that Des is back at the helm, everyone wants results straight away - that comes with the game today - but realistically you have to give it some time.
"When you look at 2004, it wasn't until three or four years later that Dessie got a stranglehold on the players and club again."
It was well documented that several former players did not get along with Daly Cherry-Evans. Stewart said he never had an issue with the Manly skipper.
"I haven't had a problem with Chezza at all," he said. "He just mightn't be a bloke I ring to go for a beer, and vice-versa.
"But there are blokes like that in every industry. It was well documented about some things but others were blown out of proportion.
"I am there with him now and he seems to have matured a lot as a player and a person. There was no dead air to clear."
Stewart and the great Graham "Wombat" Eadie have always been regarded as Manly's finest fullbacks. Tom Trbojevic has joined the queue at just 22.
"What a great kid," Stewart said. "People forget he is only 22, 23 in October. He has an old head on his shoulders for such a young bloke.
"Tommy and Jake come from such a good family, so respectful. The competitive drive I had, I see that with Tom and Jake. Tom has a long future in our game."
Stewart spent two years in Melbourne managing Tokosan, a Japanese restaurant based in Prahran.
He has returned through a desire to live in Sydney again, a coaching job at Manly and a job with All-Pro cleaning and chemical supplies.
"I still have a percentage in the business but I'm no longer playing a management role," Stewart said. "I was basically managing the restaurant full-time.
"I didn't really have a lot of spare time. I had to deal with the weather but Melbourne is a pretty good city.
"I had a career in Sydney for 15, 16 years so I just wanted a change. I actually enjoyed being down there and not being recognised.
"In saying that, maybe the business would be going a little bit better if it was in Sydney and I could leverage it off my name a little bit more, but it's not to be.
"I'd probably say no but everyone around me says I'm a little bit more easygoing and easier to speak to, for whatever reason.
"My business partner is running Tokosan now but there was an opportunity to work with a cleaning and chemical company, All-Pro. I couldn't let it slip."
"I have a few roles within,'' Stewart said. "I am doing some ambassadorial stuff and mentoring the fullbacks, wingers and centres while doing some coaching as well.
"The coaching part is relatively new to me. I only started in January. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would be coaching, I would have said no.
"But when you go away from the game and come back, I guess you have a new-found appreciation about what you know about the game.
"I was a more relaxed sort of player but in this day and age, it's a lot more stressful on the younger blokes.
"If I can be a sounding board with some of their problems … I went through stuff myself off the field. I think if you get that right, the football will follow suit."
Asked to describe Hasler, Stewart said: "He wouldn't like me telling you! He has a heart of gold. He intimidates a few people, that's his character.
"He can be a bit weird in some of his outlooks, some of opinions. But that's what I love about him. He can be a bit alternate at times.
"But I have a lot of time for Dessie. He has always been there for me, definitely a mentor to me. He showed me plenty of loyalty. What a good person he really is.
"I will try and help wherever I can, not just in football but anything in life. The club needs to let Des wave his wand. He is Manly through and through."
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OLD MATE'S ACT
Stewart has tried to retain contact with his former Manly teammates.
"Stevie Matai seems to be a bit hard to get hold of," Stewart said. "No one can find him but we hear he's doing well.
"I still speak to Killer (Jamie Lyon) quite regularly and (brother) Glenn, I speak to him every day, twice a day.
"Choccy (Anthony Watmough) is doing well with his restaurant (Circular Quay-based Cubby's Kitchen), he is working his butt off there every day. It's good to see him doing well.
"I spoke to Foz (Kieran Foran) before his (ankle) surgery. I feel a bit sorry for the bugger. He just can't take a trick at the moment.
"That game on the weekend (for Canterbury) was the best he has had in many years."
"I went there the other week for the captain's run," Stewart said. "I got butterflies and it was only a training session.
"I used to love playing there. The fans were great. They were close to the action. I just feel comfortable there. I have some really great memories.
"We won some classics there, that's for sure. And we scored some beauties there, too."
GIFT OF LIFE
Brett and Glenn are as close as two brothers could be.
"Gift is good,'' Stewart said. "He is in Wollongong. He has his boy and girl down there and wife Jo. He finished off last season playing for our junior club, Western Suburbs.
"He won the premiership. I think he is having a year off everything. His body has slowed, his knees are no good, like me. It took him long enough.
"He is working for Remondis down there in sales. He's happy with a bit of normality. I think he will probably settle down there."