Kieran Foran has hailed Brett Stewart as the best ball-playing fullback in the game.
Stewart made a successful return from injury against Souths, scoring a try and setting up another after some uncharacteristic early errors. While he made only six runs for 37 metres, his ability to take pressure off the ball-players was one of the reasons behind the upset result. Peta Hiku did an outstanding job while Stewart was sidelined but his return gave them more options in attack.
''I've said it all year, he's the best ball-playing fullback in the game in my eyes,'' Foran said. ''He's got vision and skills like a half. It adds a new dimension to our attack having him out the back, he can come up with that final pass when we need it.''
For a fatigued Sea Eagles side, the addition of Stuart to the back line was a welcome lift against the Rabbitohs. Asked about the effect of his inclusion, Foran said: ''Huge. Huge. You can't ever doubt the size of his impact on this side. He's a class player, he adds so much to our attack. He comes up with big plays when we need it and he showed that [against South Sydney].''
Hooker Matt Ballin, the man of the match, added: ''Great boost. He just adds another dimension to our team, he's very dangerous. He got out of dummy-half a few times and carved them up a bit. It's great to have him back and he always adds a bit of fun and has a bit of fun himself.''
Stewart was involved in the two biggest plays of the night. When he pounced on a grubber kick from his brother, Glenn, to score his side's opening try, the momentum began to shift. ''A bit of backyard footy there,'' Stewart told the Sea Eagles website. ''I don't know if Glenn meant to kick it or not, I was just on the inside and happy to get there first. Sometimes those things come off and sometimes they don't. It was just lucky for us they did.''
But perhaps the bigger play was the second when, chiming in at dummy-half from a slow play-the-ball, he provided the money ball to Ballin just when play appeared to have broken down. Moreover, he also shaded counterpart Greg Inglis, although the the Souths star also had a fine game, particularly in defence.
''His enthusiasm around the team always gives a good lift. He was great,'' Manly forward George Rose said. Fellow forward Justin Horo added: ''He was unreal, he gives us a lot of confidence you can see within the group. Peta Hiku did a great job while he was out. When 'Snake' is in there, around the training sessions and in the locker room, you see the presence about him and it rubs off on us.''
Sidelined for the first two finals, Stewart said he felt no ill effects from his hamstring strain in his return. ''I didn't touch the ball as much as I would have liked but it did my confidence the world of good to get through the game,'' he said. ''A nine-day turnaround will be good as well.''
While Inglis and Billy Slater will be certainties to make the Australian squad for the World Cup, Stewart can push his case with another strong performance.
Manly officials are confident forward Richie Fa'aoso will recover from the heavy knock he suffered on Friday to play in the grand final.