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Revealed: The 'sh--fest' that saw Reds gun join Force and the 'respect' element that surprised him

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6th February, 2023
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Western Force recruit Hamish Stewart has opened up on the drama surrounding his messy departure from the Queensland Reds, saying the desire for a fresh start and the opportunity to play at flyhalf was the catalyst behind his departure.

Stewart, 24, became the latest of a number of seasoned Reds players last year to push for the exit doors.

Except, the only issue was the versatile inside back, who wore the No.10 jersey for the Junior Wallabies and famously led the Reds to a sensational victory against the Lions from South Africa on his starting debut, had already given a verbal agreement to stay with Brad Thorn’s side.

It led to the Reds blocking Stewart from joining the Melbourne Rebels, who had approached the gritty midfielder to bolster their young roster.

Stewart described the situation as a “shit fest” which dragged on for six weeks.

Hamish Stewart of the Reds breaks away

Hamish Stewart has opened up on his decision to leave the Queensland Reds. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

But after a tip-off from his agent, one call with the Western Force’s new coach Simon Cron, who coached Stewart at Australian under-20s, sealed his next move.

“Cronny gave me a FaceTime and then the next day I was signed to go to Perth,” Stewart told The Roar.

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“By that stage, I was over it. It was draining, going back and forward, not making any ground.”

While Stewart acknowledged it was a stressful situation, he said he was thankful there was “no bad blood” with the Reds.

“It wasn’t the prettiest [situation] but there’s no bad blood, which is the good thing,” he said.

“It just didn’t work out unfortunately. Negotiations can go pretty sour, but that one was pretty simple in the end.”

Asked why he wanted to leave, Stewart said he wanted to travel and get the chance to play at flyhalf.

“I think I was there for six years and there was no bad blood or anything, I was just looking for a bit of a change-up, something a bit different,” he said.

“There’s no real reason to it.

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“I just wanted to explore a bit in Australia and play a bit of 10.  Obviously Rabs (James O’Connor) is there at 10, so it’s pretty hard to beat that.”

As fate should have it, the Force’s first pre-season fixture this year was against the Reds in Perth.

It made for a delicious, mouth-watering prospect for Stewart to catch up with his old teammates.

Except Stewart was a no-show, having been held up with promotions which meant he missed his dinner date.

“There was a bit thrown around,” Stewart said.

“You don’t need much when you’re dealing with them, I’ll tell ya.”

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Hamish Stewart of the Reds passes the ball

Hamish Stewart spent six years with the Queensland Reds. Photo: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Two things have stood out since Stewart has joined the Force.

The first is just how hot it is in Perth.

“Getting over these heat waves,” he said first-up.

“The sun just zaps you. It burns. In Brissy it’s humid, it’s just dry here.”

The second is just how emotionally vested the Force players are to the franchise, particularly after having to fight to keep the club alive after being cut adrift.

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“I think the will to prove people wrong here,” he said.

“I knew it was going to be big when I came, obviously being pushed out of Super Rugby and then put back in, but just listening to them talk and hearing a couple of stories on what they had to go through and what they had to do to get back into Super Rugby, the sacrifices and all that sort of thing, that just puts a bit of fire in the belly for everyone else.

“They went through the hardships and you have to earn respect here. You don’t just walk in. It doesn’t matter if you’re an academy player or you’ve played 100 Super Rugby games, you’ve got to earn the respect from everyone that’s been there. I think that’s the way clubs are meant to be, you’ve got to earn people’s respect before you get the respect.”

What hasn’t surprised Stewart about joining the Force is just how intense Cron is as a coach.

It was half-a-decade ago that the No.10, who spent the bulk of his career in the midfield for the Reds, opted not to take a shot at goals for the Junior Wallabies against England. The decision proved costly, with Australia narrowly going down and therefore missing the playoffs.

Simon Cron

Former Waratahs assistant and Toyota head coach Simon Cron has joined the Western Force. Photo: rugby.com.au

It’s suffice to say the Cron wasn’t happy.

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“I still remember playing England, we were down by two, we needed a field goal to win, Harry Johnson-Holmes tackled someone and got a red card and then we regained the ball and we got down their end of the field and all we have to do was kick a field goal,” he recalled.

“I was mucking around, I didn’t want to do it, 20 phases and I didn’t shoot the shot and I still remember the whole week after that, every session he just made me drop kick the ball and put me into a game scenario after every training session.”

But the intensity and detail of Cron’s coaching is what Stewart craves.

“You know what you’re going to get from Cronno, which is what I wanted and why I came here,” he said.

“I wanted to be challenged and he is challenging me. Once you walk in that door, he challenges every single one to be better. It’s what you want.”

Defensively strong, Stewart, a former flanker, is also more than capable with ball-in-hand and the perfect foil for bigger ball runners either side of him. His calm presence and reliable manner will be missed by the Reds in 2023.

While the Reds easily accounted for a wasteful Force side on the weekend, as Stewart acknowledged, “that’s why you play trials”.

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The Force celebrate after defeating the Reds

Hamish Stewart says the Force’s desire to prove people wrong and earn respect has stood out. Photo Will Russell/Getty Images

Nonetheless, the Australian A back, who added that the representative side had given a lot of “players hope” of one day playing for the Wallabies, said he believed Cron had empowered the group and that over time the Force could build a Super Rugby-winning side.

“Cronno has thrown us the keys to the Ferrari to us, we just have to put it in the ignition and start it up,” he said.

“He’s given us a platform to win Super Rugby, we just have to follow through and perform at our peak and be on the whole time and hopefully the systems all work.  

“Obviously it takes time, but I genuinely think we’ve got the personnel at the moment. It’s a bit of a young group and it’s going to take a couple of years to mature, but putting that aside, if you’re a young group and connect like we have over the pre-season, it’s looking to be an exciting year.

“Everyone dreams to play for the green and gold but you’ve got to work hard in Super Rugby first before you get there.”

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