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'Face of 2009' is charged

Australian rugby league pin-up boy Brett Stewart's start to the season is in tatters after he was charged with the alleged sexual assault of a teenage girl.

Australian rugby league pin-up boy Brett Stewart's start to the season is in tatters after he was charged with the alleged sexual assault of a teenage girl. His club, the world champions Manley, had insisted until yesterday that the full-back would play in the club's season-opening match against Canterbury on Saturday, but the NRL intervened and banned the Australian international until the charges are settled in court.

Stewart had been the face of the league's 2009 season marketing campaign, which has had to be reworked. Stewart reportedly met the 17-year-old girl outside his apartment complex after the club's season launch last Friday before the alleged assault occurred. He was charged after going to a police station in Sydney on Tuesday and bailed to appear at a Manly court on April 7. The NRL chief executive David Gallop said Stewart had been suspended for a code of conduct breach until the fifth round of the league - which is after his court appearance.

"Brett could not have been in a more high-profile position of trust for the game on the eve of a season than he was last week and we believe he should have recognised the honour that he was given and the responsibility that went with it," Gallop said. The NRL also fined Manly Aus$100,000 (Dh238,000) for alcohol-related incidents after the club function, including the charges against Stewart and an allegation teammate Anthony Watmough hit a club sponsor.

Gallop added: "By any estimation there was an abuse of alcohol in the aftermath of a club function that has led in some parts to the game being placed under enormous pressure. "The players and the clubs need to know that we are not going to accept that." * AP