The St George Illawarra Dragons are a professional rugby league football team from Australia that was founded to represent both the Illawarra and St. George districts of New South Wales. The club has the distinction of being the only cross-city club in the NRL, born from a joint-venture between two clubs from each region. The St. George Illawarra Dragons are a fairly recent addition to the NRL in their current form, but have a long combined history behind them spanning from the original clubs that came together to create the Dragons. The club has been participating in the NRL for many years and despite a disappointing 2019, have had many previous successes and many new achievements to look forward to in their future.
The St. George Illawarra Dragons was first admitted to the National Rugby League (NRL) in 1999 following the merging of the two clubs, the St. George Dragons (originally established in 1921) and the Illawarra Steelers (originally established in 1982). The joint venture was first undertaken in 1998 ahead of the season for the following year. The club was the first and only cross-city team in the league. The merger was mutually beneficial for both clubs. In the midst of the Super league war it seemed unlikely that the Illawarra Steelers would make it to 1999, whilst the St. George Dragons were looking to expand their fan base and junior players. The merger, financed by the St. George Dragons allowed both teams to survive and helped the team to work within the NRL’s rationalization plan, which aimed to reduce 20 teams to 14. The NRL relaxed their salary cap requirements and contributed a $4 million incentive towards the merger.
The St. George Illawarra Dragons found their way to their first Grand Final in their debut season in 1999; they lost the match against Melbourne Storm. The club is one of only two clubs in the NRL (the other being the Sydney Roosters) to finish in second place for their first season. More recent wins include their 2010 minor premiership win and Grand Final win against the Sydney Roosters. Other notable achievements include their J.J Giltinan Shield wins (the team is the first to receive the awards for three consecutive years in a row).
The St. George Illawarra Dragons also won the 2011 World Cup Challenge and became the second club in Australia, since the Brisbane Broncos 1992-1993 wins, to take out a minor premiership; premiership and World Cup win simultaneously.
The club also has some notable game records such as their largest winning margin of 54 points in a match against the Auckland Warriors, their biggest loss margin of 60 points in a match against Brisbane Storm. The clubs best winning streak was a 9 game win streak in 2011. Their biggest ever comeback was against the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles in a game where they were initially trailing behind until the 57 minute mark where they recovered, catching up by 24 points for the remainder of the game.
The previous club, the St. George Dragons had an incredibly successful history with 11 consecutive premierships under their belt.
Until recently (from 2006 to 2018) the St. George Illawarra Dragons were co-owned by the St. George Dragons (50%), Illawarra Steelers (25%) and the WIN Corporation (25%). In late 2018, the WIN corporation purchased the Illawarra Steelers remaining stake in the club and now own 50%.
The clubs current home ground headquarters and league club are both based in Wollongong and Kogarah, Sydney. Trainings and home games are regularly held at both WIN stadium in Wollongong and Jubilee Oval in Kogarah. The club has played regularly at WIN stadium since 1999. They began playing at Jubilee Oval around the same time, before taking a break up until 2003. They played regularly at Jubilee Oval between 2003 and 2007. They did not play there in 2008 but have played and trained at the oval every year since 2009. WIN stadium was previously the home of the Illawarra Dragons, whilst Jubilee Oval was traditionally the home ground of the St. George Dragons.
In the intervening years the club has also played at Sydney Football Stadium (during 2000 up until 2002), Stadium Australia (2008) and at the Sydney Cricket Ground on occasion.
The club play an annual game against the Sydney Roosters on ANZAC day, this game has been previously played at the ANZ stadium and Sydney Football stadium and is popular with fans. The club has since entered into a four year agreement with the national rugby league to play at one of the major stadiums in Sydney for four of their game (these being the Allianz Stadium, Sydney Cricket Ground and ANZ stadium). They only played three games at large venues in 2017, and shared games equally between their Kogarah and Wollongong home grounds in 2018.
Paul McGregor is the current head coach for the St. George Illawarra Dragons. McGregor was previous a professional rugby league player who played the centre position in the 1990’s and early 2000s. Paul McGregor originally played for the Illawarra Steelers, and then followed the team when the merger took place, becoming a part of the St. George Illawarra Dragons club. He was appointed as the interim coach of the club in 2014, following the sacking of Steve Price mid-way through the season. The clubs form improved under his leadership and so he was appointed to the head coach position until 2017. He was resigned in 2017 to continue on to the 2019 NRL season, he received an additional contract extension in 2019 to allow him to continue on with coaching the team until 2021.
Emblem and Colours
The St. George Illawarra Dragons team colours are red and white – these colours were both shared by the original St. George Dragons and Illawarra Steelers teams. The teams combined logo was taken directly from the St. George team, with ‘Illawarra’ now included. The chosen club name was a shortened version of St. George’s original nickname, ‘Dragon Slayers’. The logo features a red shield with a white dragon and a St. George silhouette. When the teams merged the new club made the decision to use the white jersey with a red V that St. George had been using since 1945. The red colour on the jersey was changed to scarlet, the colour previously used by the Steelers. The club also used an alternative jersey that way based on the blood and bandages design that St. George had used in 1921. The jersey has been used only for special occasions since 2006.
The St. George Illawarra mascot is known as Scorch the Dragon.
The St. George Illawarra Dragons have the support of two leagues clubs from each region, one for Illawarra and one for St. George.
The St. George Leagues Club is based in Beverley Park on Princes Highway, not far from the home ground of Jubilee Oval, in Carlton. The Leagues club was first established in 1963. It is known for being one of the first Super Leagues club created in the 60’s and members often call it the Taj Mahal due to the white marble that was used throughout the original building. The club has undergone extensive refurbishment and redesign since it was originally built, and is known for being one of the best clubs in Australia.
The Steelers club is based in the City Beach precinct and was built adjacent to the WIN Entertainment Centre and the clubs second home ground, the WIN Stadium. The club was first established in 1990. The club competes with some much larger and more popular leagues clubs located throughout Wollongong and as a result has struggled financially. There are a plethora of club options nearby, such as the Collegians, Dapto Leagues club, Wests Illawarra Leagues club and Shellharbour Workers club, so the club has understandably struggled to be profitable. A recent mjor restructure however has meant that the Leagues club has become profitable in recent years. Part of the club is owned by Bruce Gordon, owner of the WIN corporation, who purchased the leagues club for $2.6 million.
Much of the clubs supporter based come from local areas near the clubs home base, including suburbs within the St. George district such as Hurtsville, Kogarah and Bayside and areas around Illawarra. The club also has a significant Queensland fan base and fans from all across NSW.
The St. George Illawarra Dragons have a number of high profile supporters including John Stanley, Dave Gleeson, Bob Simpson, Lawa Pitt, Brett Lee and many more.
The club was first founded following the Super League War, when the Illawarra Steelers found themselves facing oblivion due to financial struggles. The St. George Dragons meanwhile were looking to expand their fan base and the NRL was looking to rationalize the competition by reducing 20 teams to 14. The teams agreed to a partnership as a result, which saw the St. George Dragons financing a merger with the support of the NRL. The club did well in its first year, reaching the Grand Final in front of a world record crowd of 107,999 people. Unfortunately they missed out on a first year win, losing the game to Melbourne Storm. They had a tough start to the 2000 season, experiencing their worst ever loss in Round 5 to Melbourne Storm. The club was rocked by the revelation that star player Anthony Mundine was retiring and taking up a career in boxing. In the same year however the club managed their best ever win against the New Zealand Warriors. The team missed out on the finals, finishing in 9th place. In 2003 they finished in 10th place, and in the following year they made it to the finals but were eliminated in the first round. They again made it to the preliminary finals in 2005, but lost to the Wests Tigers. In 2006 they finished in sixth place. Poor form in the following year left them with the lowest finish to date, in 13th place. The club was coached by Wayne Bennett from 2009 to 2011, and in that time they had three consecutive minor premiership wins (2009, 2010 and 2011), won their first grand final (2010) and took out the world championship in the following year. More recently in 2018, the club made the preliminary final before being knocked out by Canterbury. The club experienced a horror year in 2019 and finished 15th on the ladder.
Like many of the NRL teams, the Dragons are active participants in their local communities and are involved in a number of programs that aim to promote health and wellness, education and social inclusion. The club assists a number of charities and is involved in junior league programs in their local areas.