Stewart ready to fire back with Bulldogs

Sunday, March 10, 2019 - 10:38 AM by Chris Pike

KADE Stewart needed a year back home in Katanning following the shock of being delisted by Hawthorn, but having dominated there he is back with South Fremantle in 2019 and ready to show what he can do as a midfielder in the WAFL.

Stewart was an exciting junior coming through the ranks at South Fremantle and went on to play some league football alongside older brother Tim late in the 2015 season before they also shared the reserves premiership under Tony Walters together.

The smooth-moving left-footer was subsequently picked up by Hawthorn and over the next two years showed plenty of signs to suggest he was right at home at AFL level in the seven games he played with the Hawks.

He had every reason to think he was developing nicely and had a good future ahead with Hawthorn, but they disagreed and subsequently delisting him which caught him off guard and unsure what to do next.

The comforts of home in Katanning was what he decided on in 2018 where he completed his apprenticeship as an electrician and played outstanding football for Katanning in the Upper Great Southern Football League.

Stewart ended up winning the Leo Graham Medal as the association's fairest and best player while kicking 47 goals in 16 games largely from the midfield with stints at half-forward.

He appeared a player too good for that level but he needed the time back home to get his life sorted and recover from the shock of his AFL dream being taken away, at least for now.

But when he decided to return to the WAFL, Stewart resisted offers from rival clubs to return to South Fremantle now in 2019 and he couldn’t be happier to be back with the Bulldogs.

"We were talking over the last six months and Souths were always good to me. Pete Christie in particular has always been really good to me and he stayed in contact, and helped me with the move in terms of work and everything," Stewart said.

"Having that good communication made it easier to deal with the club and obviously it's where I got drafted from and always did my juniors at South Freo which made it an easier move given I knew a lot of coaches and senior boys."

It's a decidedly different looking South Fremantle team in 2019 that Stewart is joining too.

After three straight preliminary final appearances, Ryan Cook, Ashton Hams, Cory Dell'Olio, Jarrod Parry, Ben Saunders and Shane Hockey are among the players that won't be back in 2019.

That's where the addition of Stewart is so significant and he's looking forward to helping filling the void of those players departing filling a role splitting his time between the midfield and at half-forward.

"Obviously we've lost a few senior players from last year who have retired so we have a lot of exciting young blokes who can step up now," he said.

"I'm excited to see what those boys can do and how they perform with that extra responsibility. There's obviously that void to fill and those positions available so we'll take that into Round 1 and see how the season comes along for us with us hoping to get some wins on the board.

"I've spoken to Todd quite a bit and after we did lose a couple of midfielders he sees me spending a bit of time in there and a bit at half-forward as well. It will be that normal mid-forward rotation and then see what else he can throw at me as well. But that will be my main role to start with."

Stewart has enjoyed being back at South Fremantle already as he sets his sights on making an immediate impact in Round 1 against Swan Districts at Steel Blue Oval on Saturday April 6.

"The pre-season has been good and the club has been good to me ever since I came back on board," he said. 

"Pre-season has been tough which it always is, but they've welcomed me back and now I can't wait to get into playing games now."

Looking back to the end of 2017 when he was told he would be delisted by Hawthorn, it certainly caught Stewart by surprise because he felt he had been developing just as the Hawks had been hoping he would to be part of their future plans.

"It did come as a little bit of a shock to me because I thought I was tracking along alright there," Stewart said. 

"But I guess sometimes I didn’t play too well in games and then missed some games, and towards the end of the year thoughts on where I'd be in the future was tough to think about. I was in limbo for a couple of months there which was tough but that's footy and how it goes these days.

"The feedback was pretty good and they told me some of my weaknesses and why they didn’t want me there the following year. I went away and worked on those things back home at Katanning, and played a year there and tried to improve and now look to further improve back with Souths to see what the year brings."

WAFL clubs were keen on the services of Stewart in 2018 with him back in Western Australia after the two years at Hawthorn. 

But the more the more he thought about it, the more he thought he needed time back at home in Katanning to deal with what had happened and to also reassess where he next wanted to head in life, and to put the pieces in place to make that happen. 

Football-wise, it was a near perfect season with Katanning until the grand final.

"There was a few clubs interested in the WAFL but it was a difficult time those last two or three months at the Hawks not knowing where I would be given I was out of contract," he said.

"So it hit me pretty hard and at the end of it I just wanted to go back home, finish my apprenticeship and just get back to enjoying footy. I did that last year and that's why I've made the decision to move back up here and take it one step further with my footy.

"We had a really good year up until the grand final. We went through undefeated but at the end of the day the grand final is the most important game and they were just the better side than us on the day. 

"That showed on the scoreboard and we didn’t quite get the job done after such a good season. We learned the hard way and hopefully the boys can give it another good crack again this year."

Getting another AFL opportunity isn’t something the 22-year-old Stewart is too focused on right now, but he is realistic enough to know that if he performs well with the Bulldogs in 2019 that it could eventuate given he's already shown he belongs at the top level.

"Getting another AFL chance is probably a goal I have to set myself, but this year early in the piece I'm just wanting to get to Round 1 back in the WAFL," Stewart said.

"Then I made slowly get that desire to chase that AFL dream again, but right now it's about ticking the boxes again in WAFL and if I do that and have a good season, then it might pay off."