AFTER six months of intense contract negotiations, superstar fullback Brett Stewart last night uttered the words all Manly fans have waited to hear: "I'm staying."
Speaking exclusively with The Daily Telegraph, Stewart, 27, said: "I never wanted to go anywhere else. Manly are too close to my heart."
Stewart's manager Darryl Mather is expecting to finalise the rich four-year deal as early as today.
The NSW fullback confirmed interest from St George Illawarra, London Irish Rugby Union Club and several UK Super League teams before pledging his loyalty to the Sea Eagles.
He will finish his illustrious career at Brookvale as a one-club player.
"I used to look at 'Beaver' (Steve Menzies) and admire how he was a one-club man," Stewart said. "There aren't any more loyal fans in the game than those at Manly and I know what they thought of Beaver.
"It's exciting to think I will now be a one-club player at Manly.
"I always saw myself in maroon and white. Mum (Narelle) and Dad (Barry) have always been loyal people and that has been passed down to me.
"A few loose ends are being tied up but I didn't want to go. I want to see out my career here.
"The original email from Daryl to the club was sent in February, so it has dragged on. But we've got it to where we wanted it to be.
"When Glenn (Stewart) and I moved up here in 2002, I wouldn't have believed it had you said we would still be here 10 years later."
Stewart said the camaraderie among Manly players is another reason he is staying.
"There was general interest from a few Sydney clubs and from overseas," he said.
"The Dragons were in the mix. Coming from there (Wollongong), they would have been the next most suitable club for me.
"It would have made sense to go home but with the players we have at Manly, it was always going to be hard to go elsewhere."London (Irish) were in touch with Darryl. There was a fair bit of interest there but I am glad that it's finally settled.
"The Manly boys are really tight.
"That is shown by the amount of players who have stayed for so long."
Manly re-signing key halves Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans also inspired Stewart to stay.
"There is some great youth coming through," Stewart said.
"It reminds me of when Stevie (Matai), myself and Glenn came through in 2004 and 2005.
"They built the club around us and they are doing that again with Daly and 'Foz' (Foran). The club is thinking ahead."
Manly players are ecstastic that Stewart is staying.
"He is always fun to be around, the big guy," Manly winger David Williams said.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey isn't saying too much until Stewart signs the contract.
"We have made a fairly good offer for him to stay and we are confident he will," Toovey revealed yesterday. "Brett loves playing here and he loves the club."
TAB Sportsbet now has Manly as equal premiership favourites, alongside Canterbury, to win successive titles ahead of their big match against Newcastle at Brookvale Oval on Sunday.
"I wouldn't say we're on a roll but we are getting some momentum like last year," Stewart said. "But it's still early days.
"This has been one of the most disjointed years I have been involved with through injuries and suspension."
Asked about Newcastle's win over Cronulla on Monday night, Stewart said: "Their forwards really rolled up their sleeves and their halves got on the back of that.
"They pushed through the middle. There seemed to be gaps everywhere.
"They beat us convincingly (in round one) and I think they are a team to watch out for."
Manly hope to have centre Steve Matai and prop Jason King back from injury on Sunday.
"The Knights outplayed us up there in round one," Toovey said. "Hopefully we can put in a better performance. Newcastle have found their groove."