30 years in focus: Sam Stewart
As the nib Newcastle Knights prepare to kick off their 30th year against the New Zealand Warriors, Knights TV sat down with inaugural captain Sam Stewart.
The former Kiwi international, who captained the Knights in the Club's inaugural season in 1988, admits it was a big decision to come down under to play Rugby League.
“For me it was the relocation of my family, new surroundings, coming to a town that I wasn’t familiar with, a country I wasn’t familiar with,” Stewart told Knights TV.
In the 1980s there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for Kiwi players on Aussie soil, but he saw it as a chance to build his football career.
“I thought this is something I want to do and test myself in a great competition,” he explained.
“I played in a terrific team that was seven years unbeaten in the local comp and it was an exciting thing that I was one of the first Kiwis that came across.”
After he travelled across the Tasman to become part of the red and blue, it was then a surprise to be made captain and set the challenge of leading a young and inexperienced side.
“It was a very young side thrown together by Allan McMahon and Alan Bell,” Stewart said.
“We had 12 forwards and a fullback then, so we didn’t have a lot of ability or skill.
“It took a few years to bond, we didn’t win a lot of games but we certainly won the crowd.”
Stewart can recall the overwhelming reception at the first home game, when more than 30,000 supporters came in droves to cheer on the Knights.
“I was used to playing in front of 300, out in the middle of a paddock, so certainly different and I got caught up in the wave of excitement,” he said.
“Newcastle was waiting five or six years for a team and to suddenly have their own team playing against all these Sydney teams was very exciting for the town and very exciting for the players.”
The Knights legend believes thirty years is a significant milestone for the Club and has fond memories of the glory days.
“I remember a couple of grand finals with Andrew Johns and Paul Harragon in those two great years. Going back to Leigh Maughan and Max Fox from way back ,we all had a little finger on that cup,” Stewart said.
Stewart maintains the rebuilding of the Club is an important factor in it's continued success along with community involvement.
“The community in Newcastle is as critical as the players making the tackles. Rugby League is a community and without them supporting their team, you don’t have a game,” he explained.
“Knowing what I know of Newcastle supporters, they’re hell or high water, they must be involved and they must be in the long term thinking of any plan that goes ahead.”