THE first puncture was the worst. Today, approaching somewhere near his 9000th, it's as normal to Brett Stewart, and the subject of just as much annoyance, as general housework. It's just as much a part of this 21-year-old's life as sweating it out on a football field. A daily chore. It began when he was just 13 years old. The future Manly fullback was sick for a month - "a lot of throwing up, not feeling myself in general, finding myself getting emotional over things that were not really that dramatic; I knew something wasn't right," he recalled. Something wasn't. He was a type-one diabetic. He spent two weeks in hospital, coming to terms with the fact the illness would be with him forever. And with it came the needles. Back then, it was two a day. All in the stomach. Then, just before his 17th birthday, he was told he had to jab himself four times a day - now there's a birthday present to make a pair of socks from grandma positively delightful. He admits, eight years down the track, he's still coming to terms with it all. "You can't put a time frame on it," Stewart said. "I'm still learning now, getting used to it all. It's pretty scary to think about it. I'm not that into needles, to be honest. "In the early days, it shook me around a bit. I didn't know what to do if my sugar was high or low. It took time to work out what I had to do. In hospital, mum and dad did most of the talking: exactly what the illness was, just how serious it actually was. "After two weeks, I got out and got on with life. Like any kid, I hated needles, but I knew it was something I had to do. It's not that I liked to do it - I had to do it." That's not to say it was easy. The daily injections of insulin were just the start, the needle-sharp tip of a nasty iceberg. "A lot changed," he said. "I was one of those kids who, after school, wanted to run around, then come in for dinner whenever mum had it on the table. I had to start having eating patterns, taking my insulin around [them]. The biggest thing was adjusting what I had to eat." To this day, he has to watch his diet. He still gets lethargic. "Some days are better than others", he says. But despite the constant fight, he remains one of the most exciting prospects in the NRL. Tonight, against Newcastle, he returns to the Manly side after a shoulder injury as the Sea Eagles prepare an assault on the title. It's fair to say he's as important, if not more, as the two other previously sidelined stars, Steve Menzies and Anthony Watmough, and becoming more important by the match. With 16 tries so far this season, he is second on the NRL tally, and represents a fair swag of the Manly attacking punch. A player with swerve and verve and wonderful instincts, this bloke can hunt a try like very few - very much a wolf from Wollongong. Stewart joined the club in late 2002, along with older brother Glenn, the Manly second-rower who lives with him in Manly Vale. Now, Brett, signed until the end of 2008, wants to be with the club for the rest of his career. "They've treated me very well since day one, me and my brother," he said. "I'd love to play for just Manly. That seems to be the case for them as well." Is it any wonder? It seems clear that the bloke has representative football written all over him. He's too modest to admit that - the only thing he'll say he's destined for is four puncture wounds to the stomach a day. Everyone else says he's destined for greatness.