It was a sight for sore eyes at Manly training on Tuesday – fullback Brett Stewart running freely and eyeing a return in Friday night’s NRL preliminary final against South Sydney.
While he trod carefully to start with as he ran at three-quarter pace through an early running drill, Stewart gave his injured hamstring a thorough examination as he went full tilt later in the session – the brilliant No.1 passing the first test in his quest to face the Bunnies.
The availability fo Stewart would be a massive boost for the Sea Eagles, who despite the fine form of Peta Hiku at the back, have failed to hit top form during the finals series.
But while the sight of Stewart running would have raised the hopes of coach Geoff Toovey, he also knows there is a long way to go before the his star fullback is cleared to play.
Asked when he would make a call on Stewart’s availability, Toovey said:
“Ideally it would have been nice last week,” Toovey said.
“I can’t predict how he’ll pull up at the end of the week after a couple of training sessions.
“But I’m hoping through the advice of medical staff and himself that he’ll be fine.
“The bloke who filled in for him, Peta Hiku, has done a great job.
“But Brett Stewart’s been in and out in these situations quite often in previous years so we’re pretty sure and confident, the quality player that he is he’ll bounce back and fit straight in.”
The form of Hiku has been a godsend for Toovey and has earned the Warriors junior an upgraded contract extension for 2014, enough to convince him to bring his partner and two-year-old daughter across from New Zealand at the end of the season.
While a path to a regular top grade berth is blocked by the presence of Stewart and wingers David Williams and Jorge Taufua, Hiku said he was keen to extend his time at the Sea Eagles beyond next year.
“It would be good to stay here at the club, especially the way they brought me in they’ve been real good to me,” Hiku said.
“Hopefully it just carries on.”
Captain Jamie Lyon (bruised leg) took part in some of Tuesday’s session, but back-rower Anthony Watmough (knee) has been wrapped in cotton wool ahead of his rematch with Rabbitohs prop Jeff Lima.
Lima copped a one-game ban the last time the two sides met for a leg twist on Watmough, with the NSW Origin star sidelined for two games with a knee complaint after the match.