When the 1998 season came to a close, so too did almost a century of combined stand alone competition for the St George Dragons and the Illawarra Steelers. When the Dragons ran onto the field of the new Sydney Olympic Stadium in front of 104,000 fans the following year they emerged as the St George Illawarra Dragons, the first joint venture club in NRL history.
A long and famous era had ended for St George and a relatively short but proud era was over for Illawarra. A second phase of St George’s “life” and that of Illawarra was about to begin.
The “Partnership” Decision
Dragons Chairman, Doug McClelland, explained the thinking that led to the difficult but necessary decision to form a partnership with Illawarra in the Club’s 1998 Annual Report.
“At another meeting in June this year (1998) of chairman and chief executive officers of the 20 teams it became obvious to us that the NRL was determined that the reduction of teams (to 14) would be brought about by way of mergers in the Sydney region. We realised that at least five or six of the 11 existing teams in Sydney would go by the year 2000.
“We also became aware that while we could possibly survive for another two years on a stand-alone basis, the economics thereafter were more uncertain and that to put beyond doubt the very survival of the most famous rugby league club in the world, we had to do something about it.
“It was a tough decision to take … but we knew after examination of all the facts, it was a matter of necessity.”
Chairman McClelland outlined the “detailed and protracted” negotiations that took place and concluded: “It is with a sense of tremendous pride, enthusiasm and optimism that we now go forward to take part in next year’s competition – and we look forward to being a leading force in the nationally elite competition commencing in the year 2000.”
Chief Executive Brian Johnston and Coach David Waite were equally positive about the challenges the “joint venture” would bring in 1999.
Johnston said: “I hope that all our supporters come with us as part of the new joint venture – and get behind the St George Illawarra Dragons as we prepare to enter a new era in rugby league.”
Coach Waite wrote: “There are genuine expectations for the on-field performance of the joint venture team. The current climate in the game is difficult but when there are difficult times, St George has been a leader. I can’t see this changing now.”
The Inaugural Board of Directors of the St George Illawarra Dragons was:
Doug McClelland, AC, Chairman
1999 … Finals Finish, But No Fairytale
Coach Waite was right and the Dragons were leaders in their first season as a joint venture club … ALMOST claiming a fairytale finish to make the foundation year even more special.
They won 15 games and lost 10 in the regular season to finish sixth from 17 teams and grab a Finals Series berth. Three straight wins took them to the Grand Final against the Storm in front of a world rugby league record crowd of 107,558 at Stadium Australia, Homebush (breaking the record set at their inaugural game in March).
The Dragons led 14-0 at the break and a fairytale of a maiden title in their first year seemed destined to come true; but the Storm recovered from their poor start and went into the final minutes of the game with the Dragons leading by just 18-14.
The Dragons were forced to perform a drop kick from their own goal line, and on the fifth tackle Brett Kimmorley kicked high towards the Dragons corner of the field. As the Storm's winger caught the ball over the try-line he was knocked unconscious in a tackle by Jamie Ainscough and lost the ball. Referee Bill Harrigan deferred to the video referee who ruled a penalty try on the grounds that contact had been made with the head, giving Melbourne a 20-18 lead and the premiership title.
For the Dragons, this match was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions after a thrilling debut season.
Here are some of the other highs and lows of Season 1999:
- The Dragons had an early taste of the NRL when they continued the St George and Souths tradition of playing the pre-season Charity Shield match, three weeks prior to the season kick-off. Souths narrowly beat them 16-14 before a crowd of 19,250 at Sydney Football Stadium. The tradition, which supports local charities and causes, began in 1982 and is the only televised pre-season match.
- The new life of the St George Illawarra Club in the NRL began spectacularly on Saturday, March 6, in a match against Parramatta, before a world record rugby league crowd of 104,583 at Sydney’s new Olympic Stadium, Stadium Australia (that crowd record was later broken at the 1999 grand final), its first use as a rugby league venue.
- The Dragons had to wait until round three before the first victory for the history books came at Bruce Stadium, Canberra, on March 20, with a 16-14 win over the Raiders.
- In the semi-finals the Dragons won against the Melbourne Storm at Olympic Park, before returning to Sydney to dispose of the Roosters and Cronulla to reach the Grand Final.
- The team was under the spotlight heavily.
- There was greater depth across the board as a result of the joint venture, and greater flexibility in selections and style
- The squad of 13 players from St George and 12 from Illawarra had to develop a sense of “team”.
- St George’s Mark Coyne and Illawarra’s Paul McGregor were named co-captains.
- After 11 games, near halfway in the season, they had won less than 50% of matches.
- The loss to Cronulla in round 11 at Kogarah Oval saw the team regroup and get back on track.
- They went on to win seven games in a row to come within one win from the competition leader.
- A last gasp loss to Newcastle in the third last round was a turning point – an attitude change followed and spurred the team on with the momentum getting them to the Grand Final.
- Jamie Ainscough, the “villain” of the Grand Final, was the “hero” of the club’s annual BHP Medal Dinner. He won the BHP Medal for best player of the season after 26 rounds; and the Players’ Player of the Year and was the only player to contest every game in the season.
- Shaun Timmins was chosen in the Australian team for the Tri-Nations series.
- Craig Smith was selected in the New Zealand team.
- Anthony Mundine represented NSW in the State of Origin.
- Nathan Blacklock was named Dally M Winger of the Year and Try Scorer of the Year and was one of the most exciting players on the field.
- Wayne Bartrim’s 71 goals in a season (still stands as a club record).
- Mark Coyne, Rod Wishart and Brad Mackay all retired at the end of the season.
- Home games were shared between Kogarah Oval and WIN Stadium, Wollongong. Largest home crowds: Kogarah Oval, 16,514 v Sharks, May 14; WIN Stadium, 14,731, v Roosters, May 1.
2000 … A New Century, But No Glory in the Olympic Year
There was no gold medal in the Olympic year for the Dragons … and not even a podium finish as retirements and an injury plague denied them a top eight finish.
A 12-14 win-loss record saw the Dragons finish a disappointing ninth in a season of incredible highs and lows, including the club’s biggest win – 54-0 over Warriors at WIN Stadium on May 6; and their worst defeat, 70-10 to the Storm at MCG on March 3. Both these club records still stand.
A number of the 10 debutantes forced to play First Grade early as a result of the player drain caused by injuries and retirements would later become State of Origin and Australian representatives – namely Luke Bailey, Mark Gasnier, Matt Cooper, Jason Ryles and Ben Hornby.
The club also fielded merged sides into the First Division and Jersey Flegg competitions for the first time, with 12 of the 17-man First Division team going on to play NRL during the season. Brian Johnson’s First Division team finished fourth in the Minor Premiership and lost the Preliminary Semi-Final to the Bulldogs 30-28; and Peter O’Sullivan’s Jersey Flegg side finished sixth in the Minor Premiership and lost the Semi-Final 50-6 to the Bulldogs.
The other highs and lows of Season 2000 included:
- A run of season-ending injuries mid-season to Shaun Timmins (knee), Mark Gasnier (broken leg) and Lance Thompson (knee).
- Early retirement of Anthony Mundine and Solomon Haumono.
- The “get square” win over Melbourne in round 18 and strong away wins against Tigers, Raiders and Bulldogs, but it was not enough to secure a spot in the eight
- Another spate of season-ending injuries to Colin Ward, Corey Pearson, Matt Cooper and Jamie Ainscough.
- Shaun Timmins played for Australia in the Anzac Test against team-mate Craig Smith, representing New Zealand.
- Timmins was also chosen for NSW Origin team with Jaimie Ainscough before they both suffered season-ending injuries.
- Trent Barrett was named Dally M Player of the Year.
- Nathan Blacklock was named Dally M Winger and Top Try Scorer of the Year for second successive year.
- Wayne Bartrim scored his 1000th career point in round 17 followed in round 18 by his 200th first grade career game.
- Amos Roberts’ personal haul of nine goals and one try against the Warriors at WIN Stadium – in his First Grade debut - was a Club Record for Most Goals in a Match and Most Points in a Match.
- Luke Bailey, Amos Roberts and Luke Branighan were named as Rookie of the Year nominees at the Dally M Awards.
- Trent Barrett was chosen to represent Australia and won the Dragons BHP Medal Player of the Year Award.
- Off the field there were a number of significant changes. With Kogarah Jubilee Oval unable to be developed further to reach NRL standards, the Dragons took a six-game lease on Sydney Football Stadium.
- Home games were shared home games between the Sydney Football Stadium and WIN Stadium, Wollongong.
- The Dragons Chief Executive Officer Brian Johnston resigned in April (due to illness) and was replaced on July 10 by Peter Doust.
- Doug McClelland AC stated at the start of the year he would be standing down at the end of the 2000 season as both Director of St George Leagues Club and the Dragons Chairman, which he did on September 6 and September 12 respectively.
- He was replaced by Warren Lockwood, former NSWRL chairman and chairman of the St George Leagues Club.
2001 … The Future Looks Bright
Dragons Chairman Warren Lockwood best summed up Season 2001 in his Year In Review Chairman’s Report: “If in the eyes of some, success is measured solely by the expectation of winning the NRL Telstra Premiership we were singularly unsuccessful. However, that is a very narrow assessment and we should be looking at the broader aspects of St.George Illawarra’s performances and achievements in 2001.”
The Dragons had all three teams in the Final Series – NRL (First Grade), First Division and Jersey Flegg - with coach Brian Johnson’s First Division side winning the joint venture club’s first premiership – 34-10 over Parramatta. They were also minor premiers.
Andrew Farrar’s NRL team had a difficult start to the season, being hard hit with injuries, in particular losing co-captain Nathan Brown and Australian rep Shaun Timmins before the first round.
Despite the slow start to the season, the Dragons finished strongly, made the top eight and bounced right back into contention, winning a thrilling qualifying final over Canterbury…. but then fell to Brisbane at the next hurdle a week later in the semi-final.
The other highs and lows of Season 2001 included
- After winning only four of the first 11 games, won eight of the last 11.
- Finished seventh at the end of the 26 rounds with 12 wins 2 draws and 12 losses.
- Won a qualifying final nailbiter 23-22 against the Bulldogs; knocked out by Broncos in the semi-final the next week
- Rep honours for Mark Gasnier, Lance Thompson and Colin Ward (City) and Nathan Blacklock and Jason Ryles (Country) in the City V Country clash.
- Trent Barrett and Jamie Ainscough represented NSW in the State of Origin; and Barrett then played for Australia in the Test against New Zealand.
- Craig Smith represented NZ in that same match.
- Four players were chosen for the Kangaroo tour of PNG and the UK – Nathan Blacklock, Mark Gasnier, Jason Ryles, and Trent Barrett.
- Mark Riddell made his NRL debut coming from the Roosters; got a go as hooker after the Nathan Brown injury.
- Co-captain Nathan Brown retired mid-season on medical advice following an horrific spinal column injury but stayed at the Club for the remainder of the season as a trainer
- Luke Bailey returned in round 26 after rupturing his pectoral muscle and missing most of the season.
- Largest home crowd at Sydney Football Stadium (SFS) – 20,123 v Bulldogs, August 31.
- Nathan Blacklock played 80 minutes in very game and wasn’t replaced once; Dally M top try scorer for third successive year; new Club Record for Most Tries in a Season (27)
- Jason Ryles had a great season and was voted Dragons Player of the Year and was selected to tour with the Australian Kangaroos.
- A number of players retired or moved on at the end of the season – Jamie Ainscough, Wayne Bartrim and captain Craig Smith (UK); Paul McGregor (retired); Jamie Fitzgerald and Andrew Hart (Rabbitohs); and Colin Ward (Panthers).
2002 … Dragons Courage Under Fire
The Dragons fielded the youngest squad in the NRL and were in danger of missing out on the top eight for the first time.
But a remarkable victory against defending premiers Newcastle in the final round saw the Club finish seventh at the end of the regular season with nine wins, 12 losses and three draws. Eight of the losses were by just one try.
The Dragons backed up a week later in the Qualifying Final and snatched a thrilling four-point win over the Andrew Johns-led Knights in Newcastle in front of a very parochial crowd of 21,051; but faltered in the Semi-Final against bitter rivals, the Sharks.
Given that the “Super Six” – Trent Barrett, Lance Thompson, Jason Ryles, Mark Gasnier, Shaun Timmins and Luke Bailey – played just 110 games of a possible 168 between them, this was an even more remarkable season achievement.
For the second successive year, all three grades qualified for the Finals Series with Mick Potter’s First Division and Nathan Brown’s Jersey Flegg teams making the Finals, but both lost by the narrowest of margins – 22-23 and 22-24 respectively). Brown’s team lost only two games out of 22 in the regular season to claim the Minor Premiership.
The other highs and lows of Season 2002 included:
- The inspirational return of Shaun Timmins to play for the Dragons in the NRL after an 18-month lay-off with a knee injury.
- His first game back also marked the opening of the new northern grandstand at WIN Stadium – and he scored a try in the opening minutes.
-Timmins went on to have a great season … and won the Integral Energy Dragons “Player of the Year” Medal.
- Further to that, Timmins made a return to rep football, playing for NSW in the Origin and for the Kangaroos.
- Trent Barrett, and Jason Ryles also played for the Kangaroos; and Barrett, Ryles and Timmins were joined by debutant Luke Bailey in the NSW Origin team.
- Coach Andrew Farrar was impressed with Bailey and Ben Hornby and believed they had come of age in first grade.
- Nine players made their NRL debut, including Brent Kite who would later go on to represent NSW and Australia.
- Amos Roberts, Ryles and Lee Hookey all passed the 50 First Grade games milestone.
- New attendance records were set for both home grounds: Aussie Stadium (formerly Sydney Football Stadium) - 20,578 v Roosters, April 25; WIN Stadium, Wollongong – 18,046 v Bulldogs, July 14.
- The match against the Roosters on April 25 marked the start of what would become an annual NRL ANZAC Day clash between the two clubs.
- In August the Dragons Board voted unanimously to return to the redeveloped Kogarah Oval for five home games in 2003.
- Also off the field, the Dragons launched the Red V Membership Program.
- In October, further changes for 2003 announced by the Board who appointed Nathan Brown as Head Coach in 2003 with support from former Dragons forward David Barnhill as assistant coach and former Australian captain Laurie Daley as a consultant in coaching.
2003 … Back to the Future
Nathan Brown, 29, whose playing career with Saints had been cut short by injury in 2001, made his NRL coaching debut for the Dragons, becoming the youngest Head Coach in League history.
But a team rich in talent was undermined by injury and finished just out of the play-offs, in 10th spot overall with only 11 wins.
The triumphant return to Kogarah Oval, now known as OKI Jubilee Stadium, was the outstanding highlight in an otherwise frustrating season for an injury-ravaged Dragons.
The other highs and lows of Season 2003 included:
- Only on one occasion for the year did all of the senior players get on the field together.
- 11 players made their NRL debuts and in total combined to play in excess of over 100 games for the season - a record for the Dragons and the highest number for all the NRL clubs in the competition.
- Sunday, May 4 (Round 8), marked the return to Kogarah and it was an incredibly sweet victory for the Dragons, beating their “Shire” cousins, the Sharks, in the local derby.
- The match also set a new attendance record for the ground of 16,713.
- Other memorable matches for the season included the Round 7 Anzac Day match at Aussie Stadium, with the Dragons beating the premiership runners-up Roosters 24-20; and the 34-28 win over the premiers, Panthers, at WIN Stadium in Round 21.
- Beating the Broncos 26-25 in Brisbane with several key senior players sidelined with injury was a great effort for the final game of the season.
- Coupled with the win over the Cowboys in Townsville, it was the first time since 1999 that the Dragons had won both Queensland away games.
- The Dragons drew the highest attendance of all the NRL clubs for away games.
- Captain Trent Barrett only played five of the 24 Premiership games before a season-ending injury; while Jason Ryles (nine), Mark Gasnier (13) and Nathan Blacklock (12) also got limited game time.
- Debutant Brett Firman impressed at halfback after a shoulder reconstruction the previous year and without captain and five-eighth Trent Barrett on the field almost the entire season.
- Ben Hornby’s consistency was rewarded - he was a deserving winner of the Integral Energy Dragons Medal.
- He was played out of his fullback position at times and stood in as captain on occasions due to injuries to key players.
- Matt Cooper, along with Hornby, were the best-performed defenders all season.
- Cooper proved he is a genuine first grader and potential representative player as a potential representative.
- Shaun Timmins, Luke Bailey and Jason Ryles helped NSW to win the Origin Series; and Timmins and Bailey went on to play for Australia (Ryles unavailable due to injury). Bailey was Man of the Match for Game 1.
- Barrett, Timmins, Bailey and Cooper all played for Country Origin against Dragons Team-mates Mark Gasnier and Lance Thompson, representing City Origin.
- Ben Creagh was chosen in the Australian under 19 team; Ashton Sims withdrew with injury.
- Barrett (100) and Nathan Blacklock (101) became the first players to play 100 NRL games for the Dragons since the club formed in 1999 – and were presented a gold-plated boot.
- Blacklock was the leading try-scorer for 2003 despite only rejoining the Dragons in Round 14 following a short stint with rugby union.
- Mark Riddell (417 points) became only the third hooker in premiership history to score over 400 career points.
2004 … Rep Records; Finals Falter
The Dragons recorded their best regular season finish since the formation of St George Illawarra in 1999, finishing fifth (14 wins,10 losses) … but made an abrupt exit from the Finals Series, casting a cloud of doom over the season.
A one-point loss to Penrith in the first week of the Finals Series and upset results in other games, saw the Dragons unceremoniously and surprisingly dumped from the play-off rounds.
It took the gloss over an otherwise positive season on and off the field with representative records, record crowds and increased corporate and Government support.
The other highs and lows of Season 2004 included:
- More consistent and disciplined on the field, improving defensive record fro 9th in 2003 to 2nd; and attack from 10th to 5th.
- Big wins were recorded over the Panthers 44-18 and Tigers 50-0.
- The biggest comeback in the club’s short history and the second biggest of all time was recorded against the Sea-Eagles when they came from 34-10 down with 30 minutes to go to win 36-34.
- The “injury jinx” continued with injuries to key players for long periods at various stages of the competition, but the younger players stood up when needed. Seven players made their NRL debuts.
- These young guns made the rugby league world sit up when the “Baby Dragons”, missing 12 regular first graders beat the Eels at Parramatta 37-6.
- Lance Thompson became the third player to play 100 games for the Dragons after Trent Barrett and Nathan Blacklock.
- New Club Records were set by Mark Riddell (Most Points in Club History, 517; and Most Goals in Club History, 198); Blacklock (Most Tries in Club History, 100); and Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper (Most Tries in a Match, 4).)
- A record seven Dragons received NSW Origin selection with local juniors Ben Hornby, Cooper and Gasnier all making their debuts along with team-mates Barrett, Shaun Timmins and Jason Ryles. Ryles had not played for nearly 11 months with a shoulder injury.
- Brent Kite was the other Origin rep after a switch to the front row signaled a rapid emergence to the elite level, with Country Origin and all three NSW Origin games.
- Timmins kicked the history winning golden point field goal to give NSW a 9-8 win in the first Origin game.
- Ben Creagh was selected in the NSW under 19 squad and Australian Junior Kangaroos.
- Cooper, Timmins and Ryles were picked in the Kangaroos team for thr Tri-Nations Series against New Zealand and Great Britain.
- Crowds were up 17% on the previous year, with new “home” crowd records at three venues: WIN Stadium, Wollongong – 18,932 v Panthers, April 18; OKI Jubilee Stadium, Kogarah – 16,915 v Tigers, June 20; Aussie Stadium – 26,246 v Roosters, April 25.
- The WIN Stadium record was achieved at the Heritage match against Penrith, which marked the start of an annual game to recognise the contribution to rugby league and Wollongong of the Steelers, formed in 1982.
- In addition, the Dragons were televised free-to-air on Channel 9 13 times to a national audience in excess of 13 million and on 13 other occasions on Fox Sports to over 1.3 million subscribers.
- The Federal Government awarded a grant of $8 million to upgrade OKI Jubilee Stadium.
- St.George Bank moved from being Sleeve Sponsor to Major and Naming Rights Sponsor.
2005 … Best Season Yet
The Dragons produced their best season in the seven-year history of the St George Illawarra joint venture club, coming close to winning their first Minor Premiership.
They finished equal first with the Eels at the end of the regular season on 36 points (16 wins, 8 losses), but were awarded 2nd place as Parramatta had a greater points differential (for and against record).
A record eight-match winning streak which began in Round 19, built huge hopes for the Dragons. The last of those eight wins was another entry for the history book - the club’s first-ever home final, at Wollongong … and victory over the Sharks.
But the next week it was all over, with the side falling to 20-12 to the Wests Tigers at Aussie Stadium. Ironically The Eels also lost their preliminary final … and the Tigers went on to win the Premiership.
It was a proud year for the Dragons with all three teams (NRL, Premier League and Jersey Flegg) qualifying for the Finals Series … and winning the Jersey Flegg Premiership (and Minor Premiership).
The other highs and lows of Season 2005 included:
- After a slow start, only winning one from six, the Dragons clicked into gear and won 15 of the next 18 games.
- Highlight games included the traditional ANZAC Day clash with the Roosters in Round 7, with the gutsy win turning the season around; as well as the back-to-back wins in Rounds 22 and 23 against the Broncos and Cowboys in Queensland.
- Wes Naiquama and Corey Payne made their NRL debuts.
- Milestones were reached by Lance Thompson (200 First Grade Games); Ben Hornby, Shaun Timmins and Luke Bailey (100 Dragons First Grade Games); and Colin Best (100 First Grade Games).
- Australian Rep Honours were aplenty – Jason Ryles was named in the Kangaroos team for the ANZAC Day clash but withdrew with injury; Ryles, Trent Barrett, Matt Cooper, Ben Creagh and Mark Gasnier were chosen in the Australian Touring Squad.
- Origin representation was again high with Bailey, Barrett, Cooper, Gasnier and Ryles selected in the NSW Origin team; and Bailey, Barrett, Creagh, Hornby and Ryles in the Country Origin team (Cooper out with injury) and Mark Gasnier withdrawing from the City Origin team with injury.
- A new Club Record was achieved for the Longest Winning Streak (eight matches, July 17 – September 10.
- Bailey was named Dally M Prop of the Year and Gasnier was named Dally M Centre of the Year.
- Bailey won the Club’s St.George Bank Medal for Player of the Year.
- Off the field, the Dragons also had a successful season with sponsorship up 15%, membership up 27%, gate receipts up 14% and merchandise up 24%.
- Eight home matches were sold-out in 2005 with new home crowd attendance records in Wollongong and at Kogarah: OKI Jubilee Stadium – 17,523 v Eels, August 23; and WIN Stadium, Wollongong, 19,608 v Sharks, September 9.
- The passing away of Robert Stone was a devastating loss. His passion and exceptional contribution to the Dragons will never be forgotten.
2006 … Top Eight Finish Hat-trick
The Dragons finished in the top eight once again for the third successive year.
They almost missed out, faltering late in the season to lose five games in a row heading into round 24 then ended up winning the last three games of the regular season to finish 6th on the ladder (14 wins, 10 losses).
The Dragons overcame heavyweights, the Broncos (20-4) and Eagles (28-0) in the first two weeks of the Finals Series; but Minor Premiers, the Storm, proved to be their nemesis yet again, beating them 24-10.
Premier League and Jersey Flegg also made the Finals Series and both fell one game short of a Grand Final berth.
Season 2006 proved a watershed for the Club with a generational change at the end of the season as the Dragons farewelled the last of their foundation players – captain Trent Barrett and Shaun Timmins. Luke Bailey also said goodbye.
The other highs and lows of Season 2006 included:
- The Round 10 win against the Warriors at WIN Stadium and Round 14 away win against the Panthers were both “gutsy” and almost “against the odds” wins.
- The wins in Weeks 1 and 2 of the Finals Series were two of the most impressive performances of the season.
- The $8million facelift to OKI Jubilee Stadium was unveiled in Round 13 (June 2) against the Eels, but the script did not go to plan, with Parramatta winning a low-scoring rain-affected match 8-1.
- NRL debuts were made by Daryl Millard, George Ndaira, Lee Te Maari, Brett Morris, Charlie Leaeno and Danny Wicks.
- Senior players played about 90% of the 24 regular season games and only 29 players were used during the season.
- Milestones were achieved by Timmins (200 First Grade Games); Matt Cooper, Jason Ryles and Mark Gasnier (100 Dragons First Grade Games); and Matt Bickerstaff (100 First Grade Games).
- Australian rep honours went to Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper for the ANZAC Test; and to Gasnier and Ben Hornby for the Touring Squad.
- Daryl Millard and Wes Naiqama represented their home country of Fiji.
- Matt Cooper represented NSW in origin football for the third successive year and was joined by Bailey, Gasnier and Hornby.
- Hornby and Ben Creagh played Country Origin.
- Gasnier won the Dally M Centre of the Year for the second successive season.
- The Club’s St.George Bank Medal Player of the Year award was shared by Gasnier and Ryles.
- Off the field, the “business” performance was impressive also, with sponsorship 18%, merchandise up 44% and membership and ticketing up 26%.
- New “home” game attendance records were set again: OKI Jubilee Stadium – 18,223 v Bulldogs, July 14; and Aussie Stadium, Moore Park - 31,105 v Roosters, April 25.
- Channel 9 featured the Dragons in 15 free-to-air games – the highest in the NRL.
2007 … Disappointing Season Derailed by Injuries
2007 was a disappointing season for the Dragons, with injuries to key players derailing the campaign almost before the season had begun.
A procession of topliners followed champion centre Mark Gasnier onto the injured list, forcing coach Nathan Brown dig deep down into the ranks to blood new first graders in the early rounds.
The Dragons failed to make the final eight for only the second time in the Club’s history … and recorded their worst finish, ending up in13th place after the regular season (9 wins, 15 losses).
As bad as the season was, the Club was only four wins away from fourth spot in what was one of the closest seasons in the competition.
The other highs and lows of Season 2007 included:
- The season-opener against the Titans at Suncorp Stadium in front of a crowd of 50,000 was a highlight game. The Dragons won 20-18 against a quality team in their historic entry into the NRL.
- The match against Brisbane at OKI Jubilee Stadium halfway through the season was the stand-out, without a doubt. The Broncos were in good form and no one gave the Dragons a chance with Matt Cooper the only player in the line-up who had any First Grade experience prior to this season. The Dragons won 11-4.
- It was Jamie Soward’s first match with the Club.
- The top 25 was decimated by 236 player games lost including 186 games from the top 12.
- The number of injuries to key players led to the elevation of 11 rookies, with six of them playing 20 games each – Josh Morris, Keith Lulia, Richard Williams, Dan Hunt, Chase Stanley, Chris Houston, Ben Ellis, Tom Hewitt, Lagi Setu, Jason Nightingale and Ricky Thorby.
- Stanley followed up his NRL debut with selection in the Junior Kiwis squad then finished the year making his international Test debut for New Zealand … and he was still at school.
- Setu followed his NRL debut up with selection in the Queensland under 19s and Junior Kangaroos.
- Mark Gasnier was chosen in the Australian team and Matt Cooper in the NSW Origin team.
- Player of the Year Ben Creagh was the only player to play every NRL game and was an outstanding leader and role model for the entire squad. He was chosen in Country Origin with Josh Morris.
- Milestones were achieved by Simon Woolford (250 First Grade Games) and Ben Hornby (150 First Grade Games).
- A further $7million of State Government funds was spent in 2007 to provide more undercover seating, additional dressing rooms and corporate facilities
- The Club’s on-field results impacted the Club’s off-field endeavours and actual gate receipts and merchandise revenue were down
2008...Centenary of Rugby League
2008 saw the game of Rugby league celebrate its Centenary with a large number of functions and celebrations held throughout the year to mark the occasion.
To commemorate the Centenary a number of plaques were placed at venues around Australia with the St George Illawarra Dragons having them mounted at the following venues:
• St George Leagues Club
• Hurstville Oval
• Earl Park, Arncliffe
• Jubilee Oval, Kogarah
• Dicey Riley’s Hotel
• Illawarra Leagues Club
• Steelers Club
• WIN Stadium, Wollongong
A number of teams were also selected to mark the occasion with the Dragons successful past seeing a number of past players selected in various sides:
Australian “Team of the Century” – Reg Gasnier, John Raper, Norm Provan and Graeme Langlands
NSWRL “Team of the Century” – Reg Gasnier, John Raper, Norm Provan and Graeme Langlands
Country “Team of the Century” – Graeme Langlands
Australian Schoolboys “Team of the Century” – Mark Gasnier and Craig Young
100 Greatest Players – Graeme Langlands, John Raper, Reg Gasnier, Norm Provan, Eddie Lumsden, Billy Smith, Johnny King, Frank Burge, Harry Bath, Brain Clay, Ken Kearney, Herb Narvo and Ian Walsh
On the field the Dragons returned to Finals football but it was short lived with the red and whites losing in the first week of the finals to eventual Premiers manly, 38-6 at Brookvale.
The season was one full of ups and downs with the side finishing in seventh position (13 wins, 11 losses) and also seeing the departure of a number of the Club’s favourite sons who were moving on. Coach Nathan Brown (Huddersfield), Paul McGregor (Wests - Illawarra League), Jason Ryles (Les Catalans – English Super league) and Mark Gasnier (Stade Francais – Rugby Union) were all moving on to the next phase of their life after more than a decade each in the Dragons system.
The year also saw the launch of the Toyota Cup competition for under 20’s players. It featured teams from all 16 NRL clubs and attracted national television coverage throughout the year.
Off the field the Dragons launched Dragons Community which is an eight pillar initiative designed to help people within our community to make positive choices. The initiatives include: Health, Education, Mentoring, Women & Girls, Grassroots Rugby League, Charity, Cultural, Environmental.
The other highs of Season 2008 included:
- After losing four matches in a row the Dragons kick started their season with a 26-6 victory in the traditional ANZAC Day clash with the Roosters.
- The Round 11 match against eventual Premiers Manly was a great all-round team performance with a thoroughly deserved 20-18 victory. The squad had a number of players “backing-up” from State of Origin two days prior and going to Brookvale Oval was a good confidence boost for the team.
- As part of the farewell to the departing players the final game against the Warriors at WIN Stadium in Round 24 was a match where everything just worked with a 34-6 victory. It was a great way for the players to remember their final home game after putting in such a dominating performance.
- Jason Ryles set the platform for the team up front all year. After a slow start the Berkeley junior was rewarded for his year by winning his third Dragons Medal for “player of the Year” at the end of year Awards night.
- Justin Poore combined well with Jason Ryles in the front row and established himself as a dominant prop in the NRL.
- Josh Morris also established himself as an NRL player. After debuting in 2007 the Kiama junior was “Mr Fix-it” in the outside backs and didn’t let anyone down throughout the entire year. He was also rewarded with selection in the Prime Minister’s XIII side.
- In a long season Jason Nightingale rose to the occasion missing just one game throughout the year. The local junior also made his International debut playing for the Kiwis in the Centenary test against Australia.
- Captain Mark Gasnier was selected to play for Australia in the Centenary Test against New Zealand with a 28-12 victory.
- Back Rower Lagi Setu was selected in the Somoan World Cup squad for the tournament played at the end of the season.
- Jamie Soward was a late inclusion in the Aboriginal Dreamtime team that played in a curtain raiser to the opening World Cup fixture against a NZ Maori side that contained team-mates Rangi Chase, Ben Ellis and Chase Stanley.
- Matt Cooper, Mark Gasnier and Ben Hornby all represented NSW in the State of Origin series.
- Halfback Ben Hornby was chosen to represent Country Origin for the annual City v Country clash played at WIN Stadium with a 22-all draw being the result.
- Matt Cooper and Jason Ryles both joined Ben Hornby and Trent Barrett in the “150 Club”.
- Ben Creagh, Justin Poore and Dean Young all passed the 100 game mark throughout season 2008.
- Thirroul junior Matt Prior made his NRL debut in round 5 against the Cowboys and went on to play in 11 matches throughout the season.
2009: A Sign Of Things To Come…
While the Global Financial Crisis created a slump in most areas, St George Illawarra bucked the trend by securing their first minor premiership as a joint-venture under the guidance of new Head Coach Wayne Bennett.
The Dragons left it until the final round to secure the milestone but a convincing 37-0 victory over Parramatta was enough to get the team across the line.
The match also served as the stage for some individual Dragons brilliance, with Brett Morris putting in a deserved man-of-the-match performance for his hat-trick of tries and five-eight Jamie Soward surpassing Harry Bath’s record for most points in a season by a red-and-white player.
Unfortunately, the Club’s momentum did not continue entering the Finals series and were soon bowing out after suffering two consecutive losses.
The other highs and lows of Season 2009 included:
- Darius Boyd, Neville Costigan, Nick Emmett, Luke Priddis, Jeremy Smith and Micahel Weyman all arrive at the Club.
- Ben Hornby appointed new Club captain
- Front rower Dan Hunt played in all 26 games the Dragons competed in
- The duo of Jamie Soward and Brett Morris contributed 334 of the Dragons’ total 548 points
- Jamie Soward’s 234 points (12 tries, 90 goals, 6 field-goals) surpasses Harry Bath’s 1958 season record of 225 points (3 tries, 108 goals) to become the new holder of the Most Points scored in a season
- Justin Poore and Michael Weyman both selected for Country Origin side
- Justin Poore, Michael Weyman and Ben Creagh all selected for NSW State of Origin side with Creagh scoring on debut
- The High Performance Unit was established designed to fast track the development of young players into the ranks of the Dragons Toyota Cup (U20’s) and NRL teams
- The Shellharbour City Dragons became our over-age affiliate for the NRL, competing in the NSWRL competition
- The Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Wollongong
- The opening of a renovated and redeveloped WIN Jubilee leads to a 20% increase in match-day attendance – including five sell-outs
- Additionally, television audiences increased by 72% from 11.6 million to over 20 million
- Several new successful communications initiatives introduced including Dragons TV and the new Club network website
- Dragons players contribute over 3,500 hours towards spreading the Dragons Community message
2010: History Finally Repeats Itself
Tthe weight of expectation was finally lifted as the Dragons went on to clinch their 16th Premiership after waiting 31-long years.
ANZ Stadium was the venue for the historic occasion, with a crowd of 82,334 witnessing St George Illawarra charge to a 32-8 victory over the Sydney Roosters.
More remarkable than Head Coach Wayne Bennett winning the Premiership for the Club in only his second year was the way the feat was accomplished.
At the halftime interval, the Dragons were trailing the Roosters 8-6 following Mark Gasnier’s early opener but the second-half saw the Dragons notch 26 points unopposed en-route to victory.
Jason Nightingale led the red-and-white comeback with two tries before Dean Young and Nathan Fien closed shop with individual efforts of their own.
Jamie Soward cemented the victory for the Dragons that night, converting six of his seven conversions to gift Bennett his seventh Premiership from seven grand finals.
The Dragons had already won the minor premiership for the second consecutive year heading into the match and the outcome meant they were the first club to do the “double” since Penrith in 2003.
The other highs and lows of Season 2010 included:
- Darius Boyd’s performance in the grand final earned him the Clive Churchill Medal
- Boyd’s efforts also saw him voted recipient of the RLPA Players’ Player Award in addition to being named the Dally M Fullback of the Year and RLIF Fullback of the Year
- Wayne Bennett awarded as the RLIF Coach of the Year
- Matt Cooper was selected to the NRL All-Stars team to play Jamie Soward’s Indigenous All-Stars
- Neville Costigan, Beau Scott and Jamie Soward all reaching their 100 Career NRL games
- Cameron King makes his NRL debut in Round 26 against South Sydney
- Over 660,000 attendees for the combined home and away season
- Red V Membership increased in number to over 15,700, making it the Club the largest supported in Sydney and second overall in the NRL
2011: Dragons Take On The World
The Dragons started the year perfectly by being crowned World Club Challenge champions heading into the 2011 now holding every trophy available.
The Club took out the honour of becoming world champions for the first time with a toughly-fought 21-15 victory over English Super League opponents Wigan Warriors on UK soil.
The Dragons ran-in four tries courtesy of a double by Brett Morris as well Matt Cooper and Cameron King’s efforts to clinch the title of the world’s best team and etch yet another page in the Club’s history.
The World Club Challenge trophy, accompanied by last season’s minor Premiership and Premiership trophies, meant the Dragons pulled off an unprecedented “treble”.
The Dragons ended the regular season in fifth position on the table and were ultimately dealt with two consecutive loses in the Finals series – the last of which being in golden-point extra-time.
The other highs and lows of Season 2011 included:
- The Dragons achieved a new Club record of nine straight consecutive victories
- Mark Gasnier announcing his retirement from rugby league having played 174 for the Dragons
- Wayne Bennett named the greatest rugby league coach by Men of League
- Brett Morris was selected to the NRL All-Stars team to play Jamie Soward’s Indigenous All-Stars
- Jason Nightingale, Michael Weyman, Dan Hunt and Brett Morris all reaching their 100 Career NRL games
- Mitch Rein making his NRL debut in Round 1 against the Gold Coast Titans while Jack de Belin likewise in Round 16 against the Manly Sea Eagles
- Red V Membership increasing in number to over 20,000 to once more make the Club the largest ticketed in Sydney and second overall supported in the NRL
- Jack de Belin named Toyota Cup ‘Player of the Year’ at the Dally M awards
- Dan Hunt, Trent Merrin, Matt Prior and Jamie Sowardall selected for Country Origin
- Adam Cuthbertson selected for City Origin
- Ben Creagh, Mark Gasnier, Trent Merrin, Brett Morris, Beau Scott, Jamie Soward and Dean Young all selected for NSW State of Origin
- Darius Boyd selected for Queensland State of Origin
David Waite 1999-2000
Andrew Farrar 1999-2002
Nathan Brown 2003-2008
Wayne Bennett 2009-2011
Steve Price 2012-
1999 Mark Coyne and Paul McGregor
2000 Craig Smith
2001 Craig Smith and Nathan Brown
2002 Trent Barrett and Lance Thompson
2003 Trent Barrett
2004 Trent Barrett
2005 Trent Barrett
2006 Trent Barrett
2007 Mark Gasnier, Ben Hornby and Jason Ryles
2008 Mark Gasnier
2009 Ben Hornby
2010 Ben Hornby
2011 Ben Hornby
Colours and Jerseys
St George-Illawarra Dragons have a red and white colour scheme which was used since the debut of the St George Dragons in 1921. From 1921-1944, the Dragons used red and white stripes all around their jersey and in 1945 they changed it to an all white with a red V, which has now become a well known symbol for the original club and joint venture.
The original Illawarra Steelers jersey was all scarlet with two white stripes on each sleeve. The alternate design was the same colours in reverse.
From 1999 to 2005, the joint venture Dragons team wore the "Red V Jersey" as their main jersey. But on Steelers Heritage Day in 2005, the Dragons wore an all red jersey (with the exception of three white stripes on the sleeves) which proved popular with many former Illawarra fans. That jersey is now used as the Alternate Jersey.
The Red and White has been one of the most recognised and well-known clubs in its St George and St George-Illawarra history.