Rugby League World special – Glenn Stewart on settled life at Leigh

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After three years and three very different destinations, Glenn Stewart has finally settled. Limited opportunities at South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2015 saw him spend last season with Catalans Dragons, before he moved on again with newly promoted Leigh Centurions.

Perhaps a surprise move for the former Australian international, who joined as the headline act in a recruitment drive for Neil Jukes’ side, as Leigh made a statement of intent for their return to Super League.

Adding the firepower of Stewart was a shrewd capture for the Centurions, after his presence in a hugely successful Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles side for over a decade earned him plenty of plaudits, with two former teammates at the Australian outfit pivotal in both his moves to Super League.

“I knew Michael Monaghan, as I played with him at Manly. He was coaching at Catalans and he said good things about it,” Stewart told Rugby League World. “One thing led to another and I was granted a release from Souths and we left on good terms. It’s all about who you know again I was speaking to Travis Burns, who was part of that core group of players at Manly, he’d been on loan at Leigh and told me about them.

“I didn’t want to go back to NRL and I didn’t look there anyway, I wasn’t interested and I wanted to come to England. It’s worked out perfectly because they’re all really nice people at the club.

“Derek Beaumont and I had a couple of good chats before I signed and he’s looking long-term. It all appealed to me and he’s pretty realistic too, he’s not expecting anyone to come in and just start winning things.”

There may be no immediate expectation for Stewart and co to lift any silverware, but if his record in the NRL is anything to go by, he may be eyeing another historic final victory. 

Part of the 2008 and 2011 NRL Grand Final winning sides, winning the Clive Churchill during the latter season, the 33 year-old is no stranger to overcoming the odds.

As one of the senior players at Leigh now hoping to lead from the front, Stewart recalled a time he was in the opposite boat, being guided by some of the leading back-rowers of his generation.

“There was also an established representative back-row already there which was hard to get into but I just had to bide my time and keep working and wait for that opportunity,” he added.

“There were some big names around Manly and they certainly made a big impact and there was a big winning mentality there. They had the likes of Steve Menzies there and when Ben Kennedy retired the position opened up and I grabbed it with both hands. 

“Luke Williamson was there and Anthony Watmough and it established itself and we had a good core of players who had a lot of success, a real close group. Jamie Lyon was skipper as well and it was a solid bunch.”

Eventually the time came for Stewart to blossom into an international back-rower himself, being part of the Australia side who fell at the final hurdle to New Zealand in the 2008 World Cup.

But among the high profile names at Manly, there was one teammate who Stewart treasured playing with the most, not for his accomplishments and accolades, but for the opportunity to take to the field alongside his brother Brett.

I grew up playing out the back garden and my big brother was playing for West Wollongong and when I was six I went down and played for the same club he was at,” the back-rower said.

“We had a great childhood and we had plenty of time to run around playing Rugby League together. I have lots of great memories. We played lots of sports together, Australian back yard cricket and footy, whatever season it was we we’re always playing sports.

“I was lucky enough to have some fond memories playing with him at the top level and it’s a real special thing to do, just to play together. We had success as well and won a couple of Premierships which made it even more special.

“We have a very close knit family so they all shared it with us and we all celebrated together after both Grand Finals, it was nice to have everyone there together and a treasured memory for my parents who had two boys in the same final.”

His brother also made the headlines earlier in the year after the NRL rejected an appeal for him to retire on medical grounds, and Stewart almost saw himself in a similar position at the back end of his time at Manly. Without the much-needed rehabilitation at South Sydney, his moves to Catalans and Leigh might never have been, and he too may have retired at the Sea Eagles.

After seeing his career rejuvenated with the Rabbitohs, a Super League move seemed the only attractive prospect for Stewart, as he sought to prioritise family-life over playing at the highest level, a testament to his journey back from a challenging period.

“I had quite a few surgeries on my knees and ankles and I was struggling there so I didn’t end up getting re-signed so I signed a two-year deal with South Sydney. 

“That’s fair enough if you’re not getting value for money, Souths were very good on their rehabilitation and I might have had to call it a day at the back end of my time but that rehab at Souths kicked me along again. 

“I was one year into a two-year contract there and things were just difficult I had two young kids and I wasn’t seeing a lot of them. It demanded a lot more time than and I was looking to getting more time with my family, that didn’t happen and I was living on the North side of Sydney and travelling every day and I needed a break from the NRL to be honest.”