March 8, 2009
THE National Rugby League's promotional plans were in chaos this weekend following allegations its pin-up boy, Brett Stewart, sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl after a season-launching party for his Manly club.
Late yesterday the NRL pulled its 2009 advertising campaign, which featured Stewart alongside Melbourne Storm star Greg Inglis. Stewart, an Australian representative who is regarded as one of the best full-backs in the game, launched the campaign in Sydney on Wednesday.
Police confirmed yesterday that an interim apprehended violence order had been issued against Stewart, 24, after an incident in North Manly about 8pm on Friday.
NRL chief executive David Gallop said fans had every right to be frustrated after yet another serious incident "seemingly involving alcohol". He urged Manly players and officials to co-operate with police.
"Clearly, it's incredibly frustrating and disappointing," Mr Gallop said. "Certainly, it's a very serious matter, one that's distressing to everyone in the game.
"I think fans of the game are entitled to be dismayed that, in these economic times, well-paid footballers are, it seems, continually getting themselves in trouble. I think fans of all clubs are entitled to be dismayed about that, Manly fans in particular."
He said the NRL's advertising campaign would be suspended "until further light is shed on the issue".
"We're hoping to get more information about the allegations over the next couple of days," Mr Gallop said.
The television advertisement features two young boys playing football in a park who transform into Stewart and Inglis on the game's biggest stage.
Manly chief executive Grant Mayer said the allegations were denied but declined to comment further.
The club is considering standing down Stewart from next week's opening round.
Yesterday, police said Stewart was accused of approaching the girl outside a unit complex. It is alleged he spoke with the teenager for a short time before entering a stairwell, where she claims to have been sexually assaulted.
The girl went to a nearby unit for assistance and police were called. She was taken to hospital for treatment.
Stewart was taken into custody but declined to be interviewed. He was released without charge, although investigations are continuing.
The parents of the girl who made the allegations spoke to The Sunday Age about the events. The girl's mother said her daughter had been standing next to a driveway when Stewart, who lives in the suburb, allegedly approached her.
The woman, who, like her daughter, cannot be identified for legal reasons, said she and her husband had rushed to her aid upon hearing her scream.
"All I can say is that we are going down to the police station now and they are taking it quite seriously," she said.
The incident is the latest in a series of controversies involving NRL players and allegations of alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct.
Another Manly player allegedly slapped a club sponsor during the Friday night function.
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