St George Illawarra forever chasing the past

Mark Campbell Roar Guru

By Mark Campbell, Mark Campbell is a Roar Guru

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34 Have your say

    Late in 1997, the National Rugby League formed as part of a peace deal between the ARL and Super League. Little did Dragons or Steelers fans realise, their independence was coming to a close.

    During the 1998 season, the St George Dragons and the Illawarra Steelers negotiated a joint venture. The Steelers had plenty of talent but struggled financially and despite having some solid seasons they never climbed the heights of the game from their inception.

    The Dragons, on the other hand, were the opposite. They had achieved what was considered impossible. They were a club that made history. Unfortunately, they were not wealthy, and though they had a junior nursery it was shrinking and continues to do so.

    The two clubs saw a means to their survival. That survival required them to merge.

    Hindsight is a beautiful thing. I am not a Dragons fan but thought it was a sad day for them to fold as an independent outfit. I also believed that we needed a club in the Illawarra region and so too was sad to see them disappear.

    Obviously, the merger has worked to some level. The two teams share the same colours. The club splits their games between Sydney and Illawarra. They had success early making the grand final in their first season. Though it took some time, the club managed to get a title – the joint venture’s first in 2010.

    However, the days have been cold since and the club has struggled financially of late. Moreover, the organisation still suffers from an identity crisis similar to that of the Wests Tigers.

    The club has two homes. One in Sydney and one in the Illawarra. Moreover, it has struggled with how to incorporate its past into the future. By this I mean, we had an Illawarra team enter the NSW Cup playing with the colours of the Steelers but known as the Cutters.

    The team in the 2017 season, played under the badge of St George Illawarra. Yet, the badge worn by this outfit and by the NRL team is the same as the old badge worn by the St George Dragons – with only the Illawarra wording added to the bottom.

    Joel Thompson St George Illawarra Dragons NRL Rugby League 2017

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    What does this have to do with anything you ask? It seems that the Dragon side of the marriage refuses to accept that the wedding took place. Go to the Dragons homepage, and they claim to have won 16 titles. “So what?” scream the Dragons fans, “It’s true.”

    Hmm, really? Think about it. I don’t hear the Wests Tigers fans saying they have won five or 12 (Wests Magpies four titles/ Balmain 11 titles) since they won their first title as a joint venture in 2005.

    Don’t get me wrong. The St George Club was a mighty one. Formed in 1921, they were formidable opposition. The eleven straight titles will go down in history as one the greatest sporting feats ever. They were so successful the game changed the rules.

    The club produced excellent players and had a huge passionate fan-base. Their 15 titles are second only to the great South Sydney club.

    The Illawarra club was young. For years they had produced the talent for Sydney clubs before coming into the competition in 1982. They were not successful by any real means. They came close in the 92 and 93 seasons. Despite this, their fans although much smaller in number were equally passionate.

    These two clubs would ideally be standing on their own two feet today. However, history shows us this is not the case. When they merged, they formed a new partnership, but have struggled with this ever since. Now, I get it. I’m not a St George Illawarra fan – I wasn’t a Dragon or Steeler for that fact either – so, you probably do not want to hear my suggestions.

    Regardless, this is what I think could secure the club’s long-term viability.

    Firstly, location: Choose a home. Personally, I would like to see all training and football operations occur out of the Illawarra region. This move doesn’t mean you have to play all of your games out of Win Stadium.

    Tariq Sims St George Illawarra Dragons NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

    I recognise that the Dragons brand is massive and so still competing against the Dogs, Eels, Tigers and Souths in Sydney would draw much bigger attendances than they would in Illawarra, but I do think apart from these marquee games, stay in and make the Illawarra region your permanent home.

    Secondly, club affiliation. Unless, the NRL comes out and declares a change to history, St George Illawarra was a merger and not a take-over. The club’s first season was in 1999, not 1921 or 1982. However, this does not mean we need to lose these two teams identities.

    Bring back the Illawarra Steelers (playing out of Win Stadium) and the St George Dragons (playing out of Kogarah) and have them operate as feeder teams in the NSW Cup for the main outfit. Both sides would keep their original emblems, uniforms and history.

    When the merged entity came into being, the new club should have developed a new crest. Before you wail in protest, I would have done this while maintaining a stronger link to both teams – not just the St George team – that currently is shown.

    Finally, at board level, it would be good to see genuine independence. Board members not representing the old Dragons club or the Steelers club, but the merged club and embracing this new young club.

    The merged team has failed to capitalise on its popularity. By the end of 2017, the club held 18,732 members. This number is weak considering that this club should be a giant of the sport. It needs to grow its member base; otherwise, the financial issues that have plagued the club will continue into the future.

    If the club engages with its fans more, then its future will be secure. Until then, the merged club will be forever chasing the past.

    Club: St George Illawarra
    First Season: 1999
    Titles: 1 (2010)

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    The Crowd Says (34)

    • December 19th 2017 @ 6:32am
      Adam Bagnall said | December 19th 2017 @ 6:32am | ! Report

      Not sure what you’re really trying to say here. You say the team has some sort of identity crisis, yet propose that two separate teams operate in the NSW Cup, an idea that shows your lack of understanding of rugby league. Why would the Dragons fund two separate teams, that would play against each other twice a year, risking injuries, etc but then have those players come together if they make it to the NRL?
      As a Dragons fan I see us with 16 titles, a simple name change doesn’t mean much, we are still the Dragons. The Bulldogs have undergone several name changes over the years, but are still the Bulldogs, ditto the Roosters. And the team does primarily train out of WIN Stadium. Again this article is a bit all over the place in what it’s actually trying to say.

      • December 20th 2017 @ 12:48pm
        Pat Webb said | December 20th 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

        I think what Mark is saying is that for St. George Illawarra tk succeed I to the future they need to start as they should have in 1999. The are no longer St. george dragons. As Mark said the merger between the Illawarra steers and St. George dragons wasn’t a takeover., It was an opportunity for a new entity.

    • December 19th 2017 @ 6:56am
      Duncan Smith said | December 19th 2017 @ 6:56am | ! Report

      As a neutral, here are my views. Should the Dragons celebrate their past? YES, without a doubt. 16 titles? YES, you’d better believe it. It’s a unique history and they would be mad to throw it away.

      Illawarra, with a history of only a couple of decades and no premierships, was always going to be the lesser partner. And so what? It’s still St George-Illawarra.

      I suspect this article is written by a Cronulla fan.

      • Roar Rookie

        December 20th 2017 @ 1:28pm
        Hez said | December 20th 2017 @ 1:28pm | ! Report


    • December 19th 2017 @ 7:21am
      Peeko said | December 19th 2017 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      Pretty poor effort
      The club has debt problems because Illawarra has never paid its way. The st George side has subsidized steelers for the entire history of the merger, typical non fan suggesting we should move everything to Illawarra with no sound reason. The club should engage with fans more? By moving everything away from kogarah? You realize soon that the steelers won’t have a vote on the board?

      So a club with debt problems should find two NSW cup teams?


      • Roar Guru

        December 19th 2017 @ 5:03pm
        Cadfael said | December 19th 2017 @ 5:03pm | ! Report

        Sorry but the club is St George Illawarra. Why shouldn’t the Illawarra get half the home games? Half the games at Kogarah and half at Wollongong sounds very fair. Very poor result for the old Steelers fans, one little word on the badge and a thin red line on the jersey, great. No Steelers jersey as a sometime alternative. At least with the Wests Tigers they play the odd game in the old Wests jumpers and the old Tigers jumpers.

        As far as paying their way, what about the number of Illawarra players who have played first grad for the Dragons and higher?

        • December 19th 2017 @ 7:37pm
          peeeko said | December 19th 2017 @ 7:37pm | ! Report

          the author believe everyhting should be moved to the gong. half half in terms of games is fair

          illawarra juniors have been great especially early, but the way NRl is these days juniors are a separate entity and plenty of them play at other clubs

    • December 19th 2017 @ 8:31am
      Billy said | December 19th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      Two NSW Cup teams..? And who would play for the Dragons club?
      Since the mergers inception the club has relied on Illawarra players (with the exception of about 3 Renowned United or Hurstville players over 20 years). Without them, they would have had to be like the Roosters (who don’t have a NSW Cup side – they rely on a feeder club from outside the region). The only problem, they don’t have the same ability to attract sponsors or high profile connections as the Roosters, which would have helped with third party payments. So without the Illawarra players, they would have won about as many games in the last 20 years as local juniors they have produced, resulting in an aging, dwindling fan base. With the pressure to punt a club from Sydney, they would be under serious pressure if standing alone..

      The St George club and fans (by and large) have refused to accept the merger from day 1 and a little more acceptance and acknowledgement of the Illawarra early on may have created a better culture that more players, fans and investors would have wanted to be apart of.

      I agree they should have had a different logo, and the name “the Cutters” never made any sense for a region with representative teams in so many sports, it just added a layer of confusion for locals. But two NSW Cup sides is ridiculous.

      • December 19th 2017 @ 7:44pm
        peeeko said | December 19th 2017 @ 7:44pm | ! Report

        without the money of st george there would be no club. there have been plenty more st george juniors than 3 (gasnier, nightingale, naiqama, matt dufty, millrd, mundine, lance thompson, BJ leilua, josh mansour, chase and kyle stanlley, keith galloway and dean whare.

        i think you will find the majority of st george fans are appreciative of what illawarra have brought to the venture.

    • December 19th 2017 @ 9:36am
      paul said | December 19th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      Mark, why are you looking for issues where none exist? The merger between Ilawara and St George was essentially seamless and needed because neither Club would be able to continue financially at that time. Players and most importantly fans have embraced the new club and regularly get great crowds to both Kogarah and WIN Stadium.

      You suggest the Club is struggling financially then decide the best way to go is to have 2 sides in the NSW Cup. Smart move – it would cost only anohter million or two to run this.

      You also suggest the side’s living in the last. You have got this so wrong. The Club embraces it’s joint heritage and is rightly proud of it. It is, amongst other things, a great marketing tool and a strong incentive for players to join one of the most successful Clubs in the games history. And your suggestion is to throw that away?

      Do yourself a favour before writing a piece like this. Contact someone like Paul McGregor, who played in the joint venture and obviously coaches the joint venture side, to see whether he thinks there are issues. I reckon you’d be set straight in record time.

    • December 19th 2017 @ 9:45am
      Sammy said | December 19th 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

      We need to stop thinking of merged clubs as joint ventures.

      Most NRL Clubs are now private companies limited by shares – eg, XXXX RLFC Pty Ltd. (or just “Limited” if publicly listed like the Brisbane Bronocs).

      The private companies own the intellectual proeprty and the NRL Licence an they can be owned by:

      * Non-profit Leagues Clubs (Limited by Guarantee) operating to raise money for community grants.

      * Private shareholders.

      * Non-profit Sporting Clubs (Limited by Guarantee) operating to promote sport.

      For St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers, their major shareholders just so happen to be non-profit Sporting Clubs, although Wests Magpies Ashfield is in fact a Leagues Club.

      Basically, what I am saying is that the identity of all NRL Clubs should only be loosely linked to the underlying identity of the Shareholders.

      For Example, South Sydney Rabbitohs are not likely to change their name to the “Souths Romper Stomper Gladiators”.

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