THE last time Daniel Stuart played in the Newcastle Rugby League, injury blighted what had been an impressive career.
The former NSW Country and NSW Residents representative will return next season with South Newcastle eager to prove he can once again become one of competition’s classiest fullbacks.
For the past three seasons, the 27-year-old has played professionally in France with Elite One Championship club Les Diables Rouges, also known as the Montpellier Red Devils.
Stuart is the second major addition to the Lions roster following the signing of Western Suburbs utility Todd Hurrell last month.
He last played in the Newcastle competition in 2009 with Macquarie.
He joined the Scorpions as a marquee signing from Kurri Kurri, where he represented NSW Country and NSW Residents in 2008.
But hamstring injuries and a fractured ankle marred his season at Toronto.
‘‘I think it’s going to be tough and it’s part of the reason why I wanted to get back as I was injured the year I left,’’ Stuart said.
‘‘Probably the thing I’m most excited about is coming back to play well and have a few wins.’’
During his stint with the Red Devils he played mostly hooker, but Lions coach Adam Bettridge plans to unleash Stuart at fullback in place of Matt Ireland, who is unlikely to stay at Souths.
‘‘He’s a well-rounded footballer and he’s going to give us a lot from the back,’’ Bettridge said.
‘‘He’ll bring professionalism and speed, which is what we’re really after.’’
Stuart is not the first local footballer to return from the French Elite One Championship this year.
Cessnock prop Brendan Worth played for the Villeneuve Leopards before joining the Goannas mid-season.
‘‘It’s a pretty high standard,’’ Stuart said.
‘‘The top couple of teams are probably a little higher than the Newie comp, but I haven’t seen the Newie comp for a couple of years.’’
Meanwhile, the draft draw for next season has been released by the Newcastle Rugby League.
The opening round on April 13 and 14 will feature a grand final rematch between Western Suburbs and Cessnock at Harker Oval.
Due to Wyong’s move to the NSW Cup, there will be a bye every round in the nine-team competition. Macquarie will miss the opening weekend.