Sport Rugby League Stewart jumps ship, nobody’s hollering for a Marshall
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Stewart jumps ship, nobody’s hollering for a Marshall

Glenn Stewart
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Manly club great Stewart snapped up by Souths

The realities of salary cap pressure has resulted in the inevitable at Manly, with one of the club’s favourite sons Glenn Stewart announcing a two-year deal at South Sydney from 2015 after the Sea Eagles were unable to table a decent offer. Desperate to finish his decorated career at Brookvale, the 30-year-old has instead been squeezed out.

Stewart, in his 12th season with the Sea Eagles, has played 184 NRL games in the maroon-and-white jumper. A tough, skilful game-breaker in the backrow, he was a vital component of Manly’s 2008 and ’11 title triumphs, deservedly claiming the Clive Churchill Medal in the latter. Although injuries have regularly hampered the late-blooming Stewart’s representative ambitions, he has played five Origins for NSW and five Tests for Australia.

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Glenn Stewart has been a warhorse for Manly. Photo: Getty

The Sea Eagles have been forced to offload key members of their premiership-winning outfits in recent years – including Brent Kite, Tony Williams and George Rose – but Stewart’s departure is sure to hit the famously tight-knit playing group on the northern beaches particularly hard.

While the finger has been pointed at Manly – including by some of the club’s players – for failing to fight harder for the veteran, the club was effectively hamstrung by having to stitch up young superstar halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran, among others, and heavily back-ended deals for the likes of Anthony Watmough.

Stewart’s reluctant departure from Manly will become another case study as calls for loyalty exemptions under the NRL’s salary cap guidelines gather momentum.

Rumours of an irreparable rift between linchpin Cherry-Evans and the Stewart brothers have subsided somewhat, but the Sea Eagles undoubtedly had to look to the future and do everything in their power to retain the brilliant No.7 over dynamic lock Stewart.

Stewart’s reluctant departure from Manly will become another case study as calls for loyalty exemptions under the NRL’s salary cap guidelines gather momentum.

On the other hand, Stewart’s acquisition shapes as a major coup for fellow heavyweights South Sydney. His signing follows hot on the heels of Penrith and former NSW prop Tim Grant’s arrival on a four-year contract next season as the Rabbitohs shore up the void about to be left by rugby union-bound powerhouse Sam Burgess.

Stewart provides aggressive defence and a tantalising second-receiver option in an already dangerous line-up, while it is also a proactive move on the part of Souths, who may lose Queensland Origin forward Ben Te’o back to Brisbane.

But Stewart’s decision to don the cardinal-and-myrtle jumper from 2015 slams the door on younger brother and Sea Eagles fullback Brett leaving with him. Glenn and Brett, extremely close, have long been bandied about as a package deal if either was to be forced out of Manly. That puts the likes of Canterbury and Canberra – both in need of a quality No.1, and Brett Stewart is one of the code’s very best – in the box seat. Greg Inglis is entrenched as Souths’ custodian, however, and the younger Stewart will not be joining his older sibling and career-long teammate at another club.

Regarded as arguably the most dangerous and valuable forward in the NRL after his 2011 heroics, Glenn Stewart has an opportunity to create a sparkling addendum to his already impressive legacy as part of South Sydney’s long-awaited premiership push. Ironically, he was instrumental to Manly’s stunning preliminary final comeback that stunned the Rabbitohs last season.

Benji begs for a suitor

After an abrupt departure from Super Rugby franchise the Auckland Blues on the weekend, Benji Marshall has desperately thrown himself on the NRL’s doorstep, pleading for a club to pick him up before the June 30 transfer deadline. Marshall has struggled for form and game time at flyhalf and fullback for the under-performing Blues, leading to the high-profile former New Zealand rugby league captain pulling the pin after just eight 15-a-side games following a mutual agreement with Auckland coach Sir John Kirwan that the switch was not working out.

Marshall can expect to come under heavy fire from the sporting media and public in New Zealand and Australia – an all-too-familiar position for the superstar playmaker in recent times – firstly for bailing on his new career path so quickly, but also because he declared last year he would never play for another NRL club other than Wests Tigers.

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On the outside looking in: Benji Marshall. Photo: Getty

But the three-pronged quandary standing in the way of the 29-year-old’s return to the NRL is: who needs him, who wants him, and who can afford him? Very few clubs satisfy all three requirements, while only three teams – Cronulla, Melbourne and the Warriors – have not explicitly shut the door on the playmaking wizard when asked the question in the last 48 hours.

The three-pronged quandary standing in the way of the 29-year-old’s return to the NRL is: who needs him, who wants him, and who can afford him?

On the surface, he could potentially slot back into the burgeoning Tigers’ line-up. Veteran Braith Anasta is doing a serviceable job alongside halfback wunderkind Luke Brooks, but is far from immoveable and can play in the backrow. But Marshall’s woeful form in 2013 and the acrimonious nature of his exit ensure there will be no fairytale return to the joint venture. CEO Grant Meyer said the club would prefer to focus on the youngsters coming through the ranks – such as Curtis Sironen – while salary cap constraints would prevent them from taking Marshall back anyway.

Brisbane, with stopgap option Josh Hoffman struggling to come to grips with the nuances of five-eighth, could do with a quality No.6 to support brilliant but erratic halfback Ben Hunt. But the Broncos have indicated Marshall will not be pursued by the club.

Marshall has recently purchased a lavish home in Auckland, making the embattled Warriors a logical destination. Whether the enigmatic Marshall is the answer for such a flighty side is debatable, but he could take some pressure off halfback Shaun Johnson – although current pivot Thomas Leuluai, who continues to be plagued by a groin injury, is arguably a better foil. Caretaker coach Andrew McFadden is reportedly reluctant for Marshall to come on board, but he could be overruled by owner Eric Watson.

He would an outstanding fit for the Storm – who have used rookie Ben Hampton and the unpredictable Ben Roberts in the No.6 so far in 2014 – playing alongside the clinical Cooper Cronk. But football director Frank Ponissi indicated money (or lack of it under the salary cap) would be a stumbling block in acquiring Marshall mid-season.

Marshall’s preference is reportedly to head back to Sydney, leaving Cronulla – with its bulging contingent of ex-Tigers – as a front-runner. Although the Sharks’ halves appear settled with Todd Carney and Jeff Robson manning the key positions, the rumblings so far support a move to the Shire for the maligned Marshall. Cronulla CEO Steve Noyce is also the former Tigers chief.

Wherever his destination may be, there is no doubt Marshall’s shock return with any NRL club would be watched by the rugby league public with a mixture of eager anticipation and morbid fascination in the wake of the fallen genius’ disastrous past 18 months.