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Stewart storm casts dark cloud over NRL curtain-raiser

Manly Sea Eagles, the reigning champions, have clashed on the eve of the new season with the board of the NRL over the Brett Stewart saga.

Manly Sea Eagles, the reigning champions, have clashed on the eve of the new season with the board of the NRL over the Brett Stewart saga. Manly had named Stewart in the No 1 jersey for the opener against the Canterbury Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium tomorrow but this angered NRL board members who had earlier stood down the star full-back for bringing the game into disrepute, although NRL chief executive David Gallop made it clear the decision had nothing to do with allegations of sexual assault against a 17-year-old.

Instead, Gallop said Stewart had been sanctioned for his drinking at the season launch before the incident. Stewart was allegedly so drunk he was refused service. The NRL have fined the club US$100,000 (Dh360,290) because of what it regarded as the club's arrogant attitude in ignoring the league's ruling. The Stewart saga has certainly taken the shine off what promised to be a hard-fought battle with the Bulldogs, who have lost their last eight matches at ANZ Stadium

Melbourne Storm, last year's runners-up, have had some good and bad news, however, in their quest to make their fourth successive grand final appearance Full-back Billy Slater has agreed to a new contract which will keep him at the club until the end of 2012. The retention of Slater is another coup for the Storm, who kick off their minor premiership defence, at Olympic Park against arch-rivals St George Dragons today. But second-rower Sika Manu has been ruled out after straining his hamstring in training.

St George, with their new coach Wayne Bennett, the former Brisbane maestro, at the helm, will start underdogs having won only two of their last 16 matches against Melbourne. In today's other game, the club Bennett left, the Brisbane Broncos, will attract a capacity 40,000 crowd to Suncorp for the Queensland derby against the Cowboys. New coach Ivan Henjak has placed his faith in Brisbane's youngest ever backline to launch his senior coaching career.

International centre Israel Folau, along with wingers Antonio Winterstein, 20, and 19 year-old Jharal Yow Yeh and Alex Glenn, 20, are set to start for Brisbane against the Cowboys. In New Zealand, veteran Steve Price will make his play his 300th NRL appearance when he leads out the New Warriors out against Parramatta Eels in Auckland tomorrow. @Email:dbooth@thenational.ae

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