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The Sydney Morning Herald reported today that the St.George-Illawarra Dragons are considering the possibility of playing four NRL home games at Homebush's Telstra Stadium in 2006.
While it was widely expected that the Dragons would change their home game allocation at the end of the 2005 season with the cessation of the agreement with the Wollongong Sportsground Trust, it is unacceptable that Kogarah's Oki Jubilee Stadium may be worse off under the new arrangements.
Dragons' supporters have been waiting with bated breath for a more equitable split of home games between the St.George District and the Illawarra region. As Kogarah Mayor Michael Platt stated recently, "The St.George community have shown great support for the Dragons since their return."
With Oki Jubilee Stadium gaining $8 million worth of Federal funding over the next three years, it could be regarded as a farcical situation for Kogarah's home game allocation to be reduced instead of increased.
By round 10 of this season, Oki Jubilee Stadium is scheduled to have permanent lighting for night games, additional seating at the northern and southern ends of the ground, modernised seating to replace the existing bench seating, northern turnstiles, increased access for disabled patrons and an upgraded training field in Kogarah Park.
Dragons' CEO Peter Doust has previously lauded the commercial benefits of playing at Kogarah:
"OKI Jubilee Stadium is a lot cheaper, more cost effective for the club. We don't pay the rental fees we have at WIN Stadium and we get the proceeds from food and beverage sales and a bigger return from corporate hospitality."
The remaining Federal Government funding (approximately $5.4 million) will be used to ensure that Oki Jubilee Stadium becomes a state of the art multi-purpose facility. The upgrade will continue to accentuate the commercial benefits of playing home games at Kogarah.
While it is only equitable for WIN Stadium's home game allocation to be reduced below seven games for 2006 onwards, it would be somewhat imbalanced for Wollongong to lose three home games per season if the joint venture is to continue in its present form.
With Dragons' CEO Peter Doust previously stating last September that Aussie Home Loans Stadium is not relevant to the St.George-Illawarra supporter base, it must be wondered why Telstra Stadium, situated in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, is any more relevant than the Eastern Suburbs' Aussie Home Loans Stadium.
When considering the future home game allocations, the Dragons must be very mindful of the possible reduction of the number of home games from 12 to 11 if a sixteenth team is admitted to the competition and the current arrangement with the NRL to host the ANZAC game against the Roosters at Aussie Home Loans Stadium every two years.
Assuming the Homebush deal proceeds, and is not merely being bandied about to gain a better deal with the Wollongong Sportsground Trust going forward, then the Dragons will be spreading themselves too thinly across too many venues and we may end up in a similar position to the Wests Tigers who have four `home' grounds.
The Dragons must continue to be responsive to the wishes of their supporter base by ensuring that they focus on their key communities and the issues that unite those communities.