Ex-Steamer returns from exile

By Kelly Exelby

Apoua Stewart's last act on a Bay of Plenty rugby field was a classy two-try double for the Steamers against Northland in 2005.
Since then he's been to hell _ but now he's back. The 29-year-old turned out for the Wellington sevens team on Saturday at his old home ground of Blake Park, captaining them to a win in the Plate final.
As well as a return to Mount Maunganui, it marked a long-awaited comeback from an 18-month drug ban he copped while playing in England in 2006.
"It was a bad time and whatever happened there will hopefully stay there," Stewart conceded.
"I'm looking ahead now and it's been like a good rest, because I had almost 10 years of top rugby before it happened. I wouldn't say it was a blessing but it was a good break _ I got married and shifted back to Wellington and at the moment everything's pretty positive. I'm just enjoying playing again."
The former Manu Samoan test player failed a random drug test while playing for Coventry and was found to have ephedrine in his system, but the whole episode is clouded in mystery.
When the positive test was confirmed, former teammates and Bay of Plenty officials leapt to his defence, claiming Stewart was the least-likely of any player to dabble in performance-enhancing drugs.
Even now the amiable utility, who shifted north from Wellington with close friend Bernie Upton to the Bay in 2003, emphatically maintains his innocence.
He fought to have the initial two-year ban overturned, getting it reduced to 18 months, but exhausted his funds and suggested there were other reasons he didn't press further.
Stewart suspects the source of the drug was a legal fat-burning diet supplement called Inferno, which had been recommended to him by a Coventry club official.

Other players at the club had also taken the product.
"How could I live with myself if I didn't fight it _ but I had nothing and no one was willing to back me up, so I pretty much came home straight away."
Coventry paid him out on his contract, and conceded to investigators their anti-doping education policies were abysmal, while the official in question left the club immediately, amid suggestions of a monumental cover-up.
"It was bad luck, but it was probably time to come home and get married. And I'm enjoying my rugby again, because the standard wasn't that great and the seasons were pretty gruelling."
So now he faces the start of another career. He loved his stint back at the Mount and hopes to make the Wellington squad for this week's national sevens championships in Queenstown.
"I'm pushing to try and make the team to go down to Queenstown, though I took a bit of convincing before I agreed to play sevens again. It's been a while and I'd forgotten how hard it is!
"I'm not really looking for anything at the moment and if anything happens, it happens, but I'm just enjoying rugby again, which is the main thing."
His Blake Park reunion wasn't a completely happy homecoming, however.
"I've got a few happy memories here and a few sad ones _ I still remember the day I had to play first-five for the Mount and missed every kick!
"It's good to come back though _ it's like a second home really and it's a big buzz to catch up with all my old friends.
"In the future, I wouldn't mind settling down up here."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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