By PAUL SUTTOR
2nd June, 2001 - Illawarra Mercury
The Dragons yesterday signed on to remain at WIN Stadium for the next four years but under the proviso that the northern grandstand is built.
St George Illawarra's chairman Warren Lockwood and director Peter Newell met Wollongong Sportsground Trust chairman Bill Barnetson and general manager Stuart Barnes to seal the deal.
The four-year contract guarantees WIN Stadium seven Dragons home games a year as well as Illawarra Carlton League finals and Illawarra Steelers youth games.
Barnetson said the Trust was keen to attract more home games but the Dragons were mindful of their commitment to their Sydney-based supporters.
"It has taken a few months to work out this deal, both parties were trying to get what was best for them and in the end, we accepted a position that was a compromise," he said.
"If they want to play any more than seven games, we are prepared to provide the facilities for free except for the cleaning and security costs.
"So if for any reason, something happens and St George Illawarra want to play another home game, we'll be ready."
The northern grandstand plans have met some resistance within the Wollongong City Council ranks but Barnetson was confident the Trust would receive final approval and be ready for the kick-off of the 2002 National Rugby League season.
"I'd like to see our first home game have a full ground, the team deserves it and the community should get right behind the team," he said.
Barnetson admitted there were graves within the region where the northern grandstand entry would be built but said there were graves all over Wollongong, including Burelli St and Wollongong Golf Course, but no-one was concerned about the development that had occurred there.
Dragons chairman Warren Lockwood said the joint-venture club's future in Wollongong looked bright.
"(The new four-year deal) only means good things for the Dragons, it's plus, plus, plus," he said.
"We wanted to make sure we play in a good stadium and it looks as though we'll be able to get that here in Wollongong.
"The days of going to the footy, standing on the hill in the rain with an umbrella are long gone. People want good facilities and a decent environment when they go to the football."
Lockwood said WIN Stadium would comply with the NRL's criteria for grounds after the completion of the northern grandstand.
Attendance figures at WIN Stadium have been disappointing so far this season but Lockwood believes the crowds will increase as the facilities improve.
The club's lease with the Sydney Football Stadium runs out at the end of the year and Lockwood said Stadium Australia was a definite option for next season's home games in Sydney.
This 4 year contract is excellent for the Illawarra. WIN Stadium will now receive a minimum of 7 premiership games per year to 2005.
What R2K calls for is the same certainty for Sydney based supporters. Sydney will only receive 5 out of 12 home games next year despite having higher attendances for 3 consecutive years. It would have been more equitable if WIN Stadium had been granted 6 out of the 12 premiership games plus a trial. However, this hasnt happened and the 50/50 principle has been broken. The 5 Sydney home games should be returned to Kogarah Jubilee Oval until Barton Park is available. The Dragons must represent the St. George district as well as the Illawarra.
[ Back to Press ]