It was a sight for sore eyes at Manly training yesterday – fullback Brett Stewart running freely and eyeing a return in Friday’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 No1 passing the first test in his quest to face the Bunnies.
The availability of Stewart would be a massive boost for the Sea Eagles who, despite the form of Peta Hiku at the back, failed to hit top form during the finals.
While the sight of Stewart running would have raised the hopes of coach Geoff Toovey, he knows there is a long way to go before 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.
‘‘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,’’ Toovey said.
‘‘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 was a godsend for Toovey and earned the former Warriors junior an upgraded contract extension for 2014.
It was enough to convince him to bring his partner and two-year-old daughter 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 yesterday’s session.
Back-rower Anthony Watmough (knee) was 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.
The NSW Origin star was sidelined for two games with a knee complaint after that match. - AAP