The St George Illawarra Dragons and Country Rugby League (CRL) have announced a new junior representative pathways program to be introduced in 2018.
This new initiative will focus on the Under-16s and Under 18s within the Illawarra and Group 7 competitions and will see the Greater Southern Under-16s and Under-18s CRL Country Championship sides competing as the Illawarra South Coast Dragons next season.
Country Championship players and coaching staff will also receive additional support from the club; with Dragons coaching and performance staff attending training sessions and providing opportunities for coaching updates throughout the season.
The arrangement set by the Dragons and CRL has created an efficient and productive pathway for all involved including staff and prospective St George Illawarra players.
CRL Regional Manager Kevin Felgate said he was thrilled to see the partnership develop to the level it has, and to announce it publicly so close to Christmas.
"The Dragons are an iconic brand in rugby league and have long been associated with the propagation of the game in the Illawarra and South Coast, so it is a natural fit," Felgate said.
"Furthermore we know how hard all the stakeholders work to help young players reach their goals and potential.
"So to be able to sit down and draft a Memorandum of Understanding with the Dragons is the first step in securing the pathways for our players in this region."
Dragons CEO Peter Doust was pleased to see the club's long-term relationships ensured formally with the announcement of the Illawarra and Group 7 pathways program.
"The St George Illawarra Dragons have supported Group 7 for over 15 years in various forms," Doust said.
"To now have a more formal relationship committing to help players, coaches and rugby league generally is a significant achievement – with everyone working on the pathway to succeed."
The further importance placed on Group 7 in the Dragons' catchment area will extend to the 2018 Illawarra Steelers' SG Ball team following Jonathan Dallas and Matt O'Brien's appointments as co-coaches.
Dallas and O'Brien – who coached Group 7 grand finalists Jamberoo and Kiama respectively in 2017 – will now combine after coaching their clubs to historic seasons; Jamberoo winning their first competition in 43 years and Kiama reaching the first grand final in almost three decades.