James Stewart a big addition to Essendon attack
As football clubs, Essendon and Greater Western Sydney couldn't be more different.
One is only a few years away from celebrating its 150th anniversary; the other is the newest team in the competition.
One was agonisingly close to what would have been its debut on the grand final stage; the other finished as wooden spooner, following a tumultuous year.
One plays in front of 75,000 fans regularly; the other struggles to get to 20,000.
But James Stewart has found an intrinsic similarity.
"One thing I loved about the Giants was the close-knit nature of the group," he says. "We all got there as 18-year-old kids and we all lived together and that's something that I'll always treasure.
"But I feel like there are very similar bonds here (at Essendon) … I'm not sure if it's because of what's happened (the supplements saga) or it's just the culture of the footy club … you could say it's a bit of both.
"It's a super-strong footy club with the stuff they've gone through for the last four or five years … a lot of the players are so well unified, it's impressive."
After being forced to live out of home and fend for himself in Western Sydney, the 22-year-old is living temporarily back in the family home in South Yarra with his parents and younger brother.
His girlfriend Julia – a Sydneysider who's studying journalism – is likely to move to Melbourne early next year.
"I said to her: 'you can steer clear from sports journalism for sure'! "
The son of a Collingwood player, Craig Stewart, James had a choice to go to one of the Magpies' two most hated rivals: Carlton or Essendon.
He initially ended up at the Giants because the Pies decided not to take him as a father-son selection, a controversial decision at the time.
Stewart grew up a one-eyed Collingwood fan, but he said his dad kept well out of his decision-making process.
"There was a tough period there where I was trying to weigh up where would be my best fit, and I didn't tell him this, but I wished someone could have come and almost made the decision for me … he took a back seat."
Stewart has been back training for two full weeks with the red and black.
At 196 centimetres and 93 kilograms, he's an imposing figure to add to the Bombers' forward line.
This time last year, Stewart was flying in the Giants' pre-season. He was selected for the first-round side to play Melbourne. But it would be the last game he played for the franchise club.
Now, he's looking to form a meaningful partnership with fellow young gun Joe Daniher. The two were born on the same day – March 4, 1994.
"I've had quite a bit to do with Joe, with underage footy and Vic Metro, so we know each other reasonably well," Stewart says.
"He's a great person, he's really helped me adjust with coming in here (to the club)."
One of the first things that strikes you about Stewart is how genuine he is.
As he talks in the locker room, you notice his eyes dart around, smiling at each bit of banter shared by his new teammates.
He's confident but not arrogant. Intelligent but not pompous.
It's difficult for him to hide the love he has for his new club.
"I mean, I can't speak for the guys who are coming back but you can just see they're so enthusiastic to train, it's rubbing off on everyone from the very start.
"I probably have never been to a club where you've got a group of guys so excited to start day one of pre-season, do your time trials … do everything.
"It's feeling like a real football club."
In the lead-up to the 2017 season, most of the talk about Essendon will surround Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker and other high-profile players who are returning from a 12-month doping suspension.
If it's not about them, it will probably be cult hero Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti or the already-established midfield gun Darcy Parish.
But Stewart embodies so much of what Essendon wants to be in the future.
The Bombers are desperate to recreate their brand in the competition, away from the dark doping cloud that has hovered over the club for five years.
Stewart is young, talented, well-spoken and, significantly, he represents a new breed of Essendon players, detached from the scandal that has rocked one of the game's most famous symbols.
The club, too, will hope that, through the likes of Stewart, it will soon be free to just worry about one thing: footy.