Stewart shaped by country roots

by Sam Phillips

The Hamish Stewart highlight reel for season 2017 is substantial in both substance and size.

There is the string of man of the match performances in the Queensland U20s' undefeated season, the similarly imposing outings for the Australian U20s at the World Championships in Georgia and of course, the flashes of brilliance he showed after making his Super Rugby debut against the Brumbies in April.

But the highlight for the 19-year-old, who proudly calls Toowoomba home, will be returning to the town that shaped the Queensland Country star to face the Fijian Drua in a NRC semi final on Sunday.

"It's one thing that I hold close to my heart, playing where it all began," Stewart said.

"I can't wait until I go back there and play a game.Stewart has been one of the rising stars in Australian rugby this season. Photo: Sportography"I haven't played there since school so I'm looking forward to it."

Stewart has both rugby and Toowoomba blood running through his veins, such is the depth of his longstanding relationship with both his trade and home town.

"I first started out (playing) at Toowoomba Grammar in grade one," he said.

"My brothers were very supportive in rugby because they started when they were young also and I got the interest in rugby from grade one, when it was touch rugby union.

"Ever since then I maintained a quality for rugby and from that I just kept carrying on to where I am now."

Next on the agenda was representative football, where Stewart got his first taste of high level rugby with the Darling Downs regional sides.

"In U13s the rugby at Grammar wasn't enough so I ventured over to the Toowoomba Bears and played the Friday night comps there," he said.Stewart is a proud country boy. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel"From that they picked a Darling Downs team which then went to the state championships and we did really well in our 13, 14 and 15 group.

"That's where it all really began with the representative teams."

Stewart is still raw but the signs of a star in the making are there.

He has a booming right foot boot which regularly gets his team out of trouble but it's his toughness, both in attack and defence, which stands out.

At flyhalf for the Queensland and Australian U20s and at inside centre for Country, Stewart has shown strong desire in attacking the line and as a playmaker, that opens so many avenues.

In defence there is no shirking of any contact and even if he gets brushed a little more than one might like, it's not through any yearning for more physicality.

That hardy approach to his rugby is all part of the country identity, according to Stewart.

"Every time you pull (the jersey) on there is something special that goes on," he said.

"Through your actions and everything you do on the field you're playing for the countrymen and it's always being spoken about," Stewart said.

"The countrymen are the ones that do the tough work, the slog work and I'm very grateful every time I pull on that crest."

As Stewart reflects on season 2017, he admits it's all still a little surreal, given the whirlwind nature of the year to date.

"It's still a bit surreal at the moment because it's gone so quick," he said.

"You cherish every little moment that happens but you've always got to focus to the next week, for the next game.

"I think I've learned a lot from all the professional players and I'm very grateful for the opportunity that I got given."

But for now, Stewart and Country are ready to prove themselves on the big stage, having been the competition's surprise packet under the guidance of coach Brad Thorn.

"We come together two weeks before the start of the NRC and we had one goal - to be dominant in everything that we do and to be the best defensive team in the comp," Stewart said.

"We have shown that over the course of the NRC but that's only one way - we have still got the finals this week and that's one of the big things we have been focusing on.

"We are playing for our mates and if we play for our mates they will back us up."

Queensland Country host the Fijian Drua at Clive Berghofer Stadium in Toowoomba on Sunday, kicking off at 3pm AEDT, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS.