Born in maroon: Stewart Reds’ next perfect 10?
HAMISH Stewart wore a second-hand Reds jersey everywhere as a kid in Toowoomba. The "Q" logo was cool but what he really loved was the colour ... maroon.
It may seem like a negligible tweak to many and nothing at all related to on-field performance yet speak to those who feel the fabric. It does make a difference.
"As a young fella, I got a hand-me-down jersey from my brother Alistair and you couldn't get it off me whether I was working around the farm or heading into town," Stewart said.
"Maroon is just Queensland's colour."
It's as simple and as strong as that.
After wearing a blood-red jersey for most of the past decade, the Queensland Reds are back in traditional maroon jumpers for another shot at a Super Rugby resurgence.
They are back in the colour that Paul McLean and Michael Lynagh both wore throughout their decorated careers as great Queensland flyhalves.
It's the colour that Elton Flatley and Quade Cooper wore too when the marketing and merchandising boffins weren't running amok with stripes, blue trims, white bands, changing the colour of their shorts and, finally, going full-on red.
It's way too early to pin "the next great Queensland No.10" tag on Stewart.
The elite quartet just mentioned were natural No.10s from the cradle.
Stewart, 20, is still learning his craft after starting life as a schoolboy flanker and will steer an ambitious young squad with an average age of just 23.
He is not yet a complete general like Lynagh or McLean or the freakish conjurer that Cooper was at his best.
He is most like a young Flatley because he is fearless with his front-on tackling, a sponge for learning and adept at underplaying his own hand until the time is right for a sharp run.
Stewart has enjoyed an 18-game apprenticeship under Cooper and Jono Lance over the past two seasons to finally reach the point where the reins as playmaker are firmly in his hands for Friday week's opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
"Sure, it's a pressured position but it's also a very rewarding one," Stewart said.
"That may be doing your part for the team in a win or a technique to release the pressure on your forwards and other little things done at the right moment."
The Reds will generate play off Stewart but plenty off halfbacks Moses Sorovi and Tate McDermott as well because they are both such pacy, running sparks.
It's a good balance.
Stewart has lapped up ideas from the top flyhalves he's trained with as well as new attack coach Jim McKay and kicking guru Dave Alred, who guided the processes of English legend Jonny Wilkinson.
"When I got that 100 per cent confidence-boost of finetuning skills with Bernard (Foley) and Kurtley (Beale) at training camp with the Wallabies last year, the main thing I picked up was them being cool customers, making one call and sticking to it without panic," Stewart said.
"Quade reads the game three phases ahead. I'm probably at two.
"It's never knowing what's coming next which determines a good No.10 from an average one and Quade has that.
"General play awareness and the smarts of the game are where I want to keep improving after learning so much starting a few games at No.10 last year."
The youngster has great life balance as an asset.
During breaks, he heads home to the fertile pastures of Oaklands Stud on the Darling Downs where he is immersed with family in preparing horses for the Magic Millions sales.
Stewart knows the names McLean and Lynagh, he's watched Flatley and he's played with Cooper. Across the eras they do share something in common.
"Whenever you put on that Queensland representative jersey, the feeling of goosebumps goes up the legs," Stewart said.
"It's even more memorable now it's been changed back to maroon."
Stewart is good but not as good as he's going to be.
Just like the Reds.
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