An NRL veteran suspended over unproven sexual assault claims has pleaded with league bosses to regard players as innocent until found guilty.
Brett Stewart, a one-test Kangaroo who played more than 200 games for the Manly Sea Eagles, has told the Telegraph he was heartbroken at being suspended a decade ago before the assault allegations against him were heard in court.
A jury quickly found Stewart not guilty and the former first grade fullback said he remains heartbroken at his treatment by league bosses.
While Stewart was commenting on his own situation, it relates to the case of St George Illawarra forward Jack de Belin, who is sidelined because he faces sexual assault allegations.
Two other NRL players are in a similar situation, under the NRL's new policy of standing down players who are facing serious charges.
"The last time I checked it was innocent until proven guilty," Stewart said.
Stewart, who retired three years ago, said it was a matter the NRL needed to look at under player welfare.
The Telegraph said Stewart was breaking a 10-year silence after the NRL 'sent him to hell'.
Stewart said: "It is too big of a thing in my life just to block out. There will always be something burning inside me.
"I could sit here and say I've blocked it out but I'd be lying. It affected me then and is probably still affecting me now.
"I don't trust many people any more where before it happened I was pretty open and talked to anyone. Now I'm a bit more cut off, a closed book.
"The hardest part was my family. I knew I was strong enough to get through it but the people it affected around you, that's the hardest bit.
"The people you don't see, your loved ones, friends and family, extended friends and family. It affects them. That's what broke my heart."
Stewart said he was baffled by the de Belin stand down..
"How the NRL thinks they can do that … this is me talking … it baffles me.
"No one really knows what has happened. My thinking would be to let the accused go through court and let them then find out whether he is guilty or not.
"How can you penalise him before he has been to court?
"He will be trialled twice. You'd think they would have learned a few things from my case. From the outside looking in, it doesn't seem like they have.
"I don't know what it's going to take before they put the player first.
"I know it's a serious charge but has the NRL thought about player welfare? I'm not sure."
Stewart was suspended for four games before a jury took under two hours to find him not guilty after a 10-day trial.
"People probably forget about it because I'm not around or they don't see me like they used to but it's part of my make-up now," said Stewart, adding he could never get those four missed games back.
He will always treasure the support Manly coach Des Hasler gave him from the outset. Stewart is now an assistant coach to Hasler at the Sea Eagles.
He would not comment on whether he had contacted de Belin.