As a type-one diabetic myself, I was keen to talk to Manly’s tryscoring sensation Brett Stewart about how he copes with the condition on the Rugby League field. This interview was in Rugby League World in 2008.
WHAT does New South Wales’s fullback Brett Stewart have in common with the great Brisbane centre from the nineties, Steve Renouf? And with Danny Sculthorpe for that matter?
The answer lies away from the Rugby League field. They rely on four injections a day, and a similar number of blood tests, just to keep them alive.
Renouf was 23 when he was diagnosed. He had returned from England where his Wembley try secured the 1992 World Cup for the Kangaroos and felt unwell during pre-season training for the following year. He lost ten kilograms in a fortnight and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes but he still started the 1993 Winfield Cup in magnificent form.
Stewart, on the other hand, was a 13-year-old schoolboy who, feeling unwell, broke down in tears at school one day. He was taken to a doctor and was told he had a disease that he knew knew nothing about.
“I was diagnosed when I was 13,” he told Rugby League World. “I was playing a lot of junior football and that was the age when I started representing the area. I ended up having a year off. I was in hospital for two weeks at first and I was thinking of giving the football up but mum and dad insisted that if I wanted to keep playing then it wasn’t going to stop me.
“However, I had heaps of problems with it at first because I didn’t really know what I was doing and it took me a long time to get well and to work out what was right and wrong. There were plenty of bad days and there was a lot of trial and error in order to get it right. In my senior career, there haven’t been any problems and our trainer has everything in his kit should I need something during a game.
“Compared to other diabetics, I don’t have to have as much insulin because of all the exercise I do and I’m able to eat the sort of foods that diabetics traditionally shouldn’t because it gets burned off so quickly. I’m pretty fortunate in that regard.”
Stewart’s career further shot to prominence in June by scoring a debut try in the second State of Origin after being a late call-up to the squad to replace the injured Anthony Minichiello. His outstanding form at the back for the Premiership challengers made his case impossible to ignore. Stewart possesses blistering pace and the ability to carve open any defence that fails to close him down as he fields an opposition kick. He is likely to feature in the third Origin game but the Blues have already lost the series.
“I only had two days preparation but I’ve got a taste of it now and I want more.
“I got the call-up late on the Monday night when I was nearly in bed. I then had to be in camp on Tuesday morning so I drove over and went straight out into Telstra Stadium for training. The fact that I only had a couple of days’ notice probably helped me to be less nervous because I didn’t have a full week to think about it.
“There were mixed emotions and the dressing-room was really quiet after the game. We lost the series so that was a downer but it was my debut and a game I’m never going to forget.”
Stewart is now finding that his profile is expanding with journalists and TV cameras seeking him out with increasing regularity. He made his NRL debut in 2003 against Parramatta and has performed consistently ever since boasting an impressive tryscoring record in the NRL, particularly in home games for Manly, as he runs in regular tries at Brookvale Oval. He scored 21 tries in 21 matches last year, second to only Souths’ Nathan Merritt in the NRL, and is on target to boast a similarly outstanding tally this season as Manly push for their first Premiership since 1996 and the days of Matthew Ridge and Cliff Lyons.
“We’ve been going pretty well and I wouldn’t have been selected for the Origin if we hadn’t been going so well. We worked hard on our defence in the pre-season and that’s shown out on the field. We’ve got the best defensive record in the competition and we build our game around it. We know we can score points but not letting the opposition score a lot is making a big difference. But, at times, we’ve not scored as many as we should have.
“It’s been going alright at home for me. The fans love us winning on the north shore and we’ve had some great crowds.”
One of Stewart’s team mates at the Sea Eagles is his elder brother Glenn, whose performances in the second row this season have seen him linked with an Origin berth and have ensured that the club have barely missed the Australian international Ben Kennedy who retired at the end of last season.
“I’m 22 and Glenn’s 23. We grew up playing together in the back yard although we were in different age groups so we didn’t play together too much until we represented the Country team in Wollongong at Under-18s. We weren’t big watchers of the game though. We were the types to be kicking a footy around instead of watching it on the TV. We’ve always dreamed of playing NRL and it’s been amazing to achieve it.
“Although we weren’t big followers of footy, we’ve learned all about the history of this club. Manly are strong in that department and Glenn and I are actually from the same club in Wollongong as Bob Fulton.”
However, Stewart is keen to point out that Manly were always interested in signing both players and that Brett didn’t insist that Glenn come with him as veteran commentator Ray Warren claimed during the second Origin.
“No, that wasn’t right. Ray Warren said it for some reason but it wasn’t the case. We both came off our own bat. Manly didn’t want one of us more than the other, it was just a decision we made to come up together. It wasn’t a package deal or anything like that.”
A number of Manly players will be familiar to English fans. Second row Steve Menzies is a seasoned Australian international, enjoying a fantastic World Cup in 1995 as his strong running tore most defences apart. Michael Monaghan and Chris Hicks will be lining up for Warrington in 2008 while Jamie Lyon made a promising start to the season, at both centre and stand-off, before a disappointing Origin game in Sydney.
“Beaver [Steve Menzies] has spoken to the boys about his past, the things that he’s achieved and the teams that he’s played in. He thinks that this team’s as good as any of them and when he says that, it gives some of us younger blokes a lot of confidence. He’s been around and he knows what he’s talking about. My short term ambitions are to play in the third Origin and to keep playing well. Long term, who knows?
“It’s not good for the game when players are leaving clubs halfway through the year and something’s got to change. Most of them are going overseas so there’s a lot of talent draining out of the NRL. It’s disappointing to lose Michael Monaghan and Chris Hicks to Warrington. Michael was our captain not too long ago and he’s a great dummy-half or halfback. He’ll be a big loss. Chris is another massive loss and hopefully Warrington won’t take our whole team but I hear they’ve got the money to do that!
“Jamie’s been going great for us although I know that he’s been a little bit disappointed with his form recently. But he probably expects too much of himself because he’s been enormous for us. He’s experienced, his defence has been great and I hope he stays in the New South Wales side.”