League: Stewart 'hung out to dry', says Players' Association

Rugby league poster boy Brett Stewart's career is in tatters after the NRL blocked Manly's plans to allow the star fullback to keep playing until sexual assault charges are settled in court.

NRL chief executive David Gallop on Wednesday banned Stewart from playing until round five because he "let the game down" by being intoxicated at the club's season launch last Friday.

Gallop was adamant the ruling was not related to the criminal charge he faces that stemmed from an alleged incident with a 17-year-old female that followed the booze-fuelled event.

In the NRL's first major strike against the alcohol culture in the game, Gallop banned Stewart and handed Manly a A$100,000 ($130,429) fine for "not managing the function properly." The Sea Eagles have accepted Stewart's ban but plan to appeal the fine.

Stewart's management also acknowledged and appeared to accept the ban imposed by the NRL, SRX managing director George Mimis saying in a statement Wednesday night: "In the circumstances, Brett looks forward to again being available for selection in the Manly team to play in round five of the NRL competition."

The ban has been applauded by officials within the game, but the Rugby League Players' Association condemned the decision and is furious that Stewart has been 'hung out to dry' simply because he was the face of the NRL's A$1.5 million advertising campaign for 2009.

"It appears now that the NRL board have drawn a line in the sand in regards to alcohol consumption by each person bound by the code", RLPA managing director Matt Rodwell said.

"The players are extremely frustrated and angry that the application of the rules have been applied in this situation but were not applied on previous occasions.

"I have a very angry playing group, particularly those at Manly, who are confused at the lack of consistency in the application of the rules which apply in this case.

"All the players are seeking is consistency across the board." Stewart is not the first NRL leading light to be involved in a public misdemeanour.

Last year Melbourne's Greg Inglis was involved in a fight outside Brisbane's Normanby Hotel while his Storm teammates where in England for the World Club Challenge.

Storm bosses slammed Inglis for being intoxicated and putting himself in a compromising situation late at night, even though he played the role of peacemaker.

But rather than punish Inglis, a few weeks later the NRL showcased the test star alongside Storm skipper Cameron Smith as the faces of the NRL's major Centenary season campaign.

Inglis was also in the first edition of the 2009 commercial, but after Stewart's actions he will now become the focal point of the ad campaign.

The NRL has also previously allowed Gold Coast's Anthony Laffranchi and Warriors' Michael Crockett to continue playing as their sexual assault charges were dragged through the courts and eventually dismissed.

Stewart's case however compares to Newcastle's Dane Tilse who in 2005 was de-registered for 12 months for being drunk and breaking into a university student's room in Bathurst after a trial game.

Tilse was sacked and banned for 12 months, he now plays with Canberra, while Newcastle were fined A$100,000.

Stewart could face a similar spell on the sidelines as Gallop would not rule out extending his ban, which expires after his first court appearance on April 7, if further information comes to light about his assault charges.

"He was placed in a position of great honour by the game last week and he let the game down," said Gallop.

"Our decision to suspend this player is not connected to the sexual assault allegation.

"We're making a decision for the game.

"It is certainly possible that more information will come to light that will change that position in the coming weeks." Queensland coach Mal Meninga lauded the NRL's decision at the launch of the opening State of Origin game in Melbourne.

He said the NRL had shown strong leadership in taking the decision out of Manly's hands.

"It's very difficult because they're (Manly) so close to the player and the player's a very important commodity in their football side," Meninga said.

"For the National Rugby League to stand above it and make some tough decisions is a good sign." The RLPA has called for an independent body to be established to deal with off field indiscretions.

"It is clear the time has arrived for an independent body to be established to deal with matters relating to indiscretions as referred to in the NRL Code of Conduct," said Rodwell.

"This would help alleviate pressure from the NRL and the clubs and create consistency when dealing with the sanctioning of code breaches."

- AAP


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