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I mean it? is it okay to call them ?St George?? That is, can a traditional Rugby League supporter like me say ?St George? without having to explain myself and without having to give a dozen reasons why?
I mean no disrespect to the Steelers who competed well from 1982-1998. Indeed, I hold Southern Division and Illawarra in the highest regard. The South Coast has given us more great players than you can shake a stick at.
It?s just that when I was a lad, we called them ?St George?. This was their name since 1921 and it sounded good. Plus we knew who they were? Saints are the mob that won 11 consecutive grand finals and are arguably the most successful club in history.
Nowadays, I?m now told we can call them ?the Dragons? and no one seems to mind too much if I call them ?Saints?. But whenever I say ?St George?, I find people correcting me. Believe me, I tried hard to co-operate? for four years, I have been taking that deeper-than-usual breath, gathering up the thought patterns and constructing the multi-syllabic sentence, ?Saint-George-Illawarra-Dragons?. Maybe it?s just me but for some reason, it seems like such an effort. I?m also told that the club no longer has its history which is kind of strange considering that interested parties will still exploit the ?proud heritage? of St George.
In 1935, NSWRL introduced its first multi-syllabic-sentenced team, ?Canter-bury-Banks-town?. In 1947, we saw the emergence of ?Manly-Warrin-gah? and in 1967; the ?Cro-nulla-Suther-land-Sharks? hit the big league. These long-winded names were there to satisfy the district?s desire to be properly represented. It made sense because the clubs in question would draw their juniors from a footprint of districts. But as time wore on, the extensions were dropped and the press-friendly names of Canterbury, Manly and Cronulla became the norm. They still play League in Bankstown, Warringah and Sutherland but they were always destined to be within the sphere of influence generated by their sexier cousins from up the road.
In the 1990s, word was that Illawarra-Steelers were battling financially and were unlikely to see out the decade. Meetings followed and a ?St George-Illawarra Dragons? joint venture (not a merger) was proposed.
In 1998, with contracts tabled, St George captain Mark Coyne echoed the thoughts of many Dragons supporters when he said, ?St George and Illawarra are kindred spirits?.
Most observers already know we are St George and Illawarra. They know we now play out of Kogarah and Wollongong. But many need reminding that we didn?t just start sharing the same bed in 1999. In fact, we?ve been the joint owners of an old four-poster since the 1930s; choosing to live in a de-facto relationship and draw from each other?s strengths prior to the separation of 1982.
For over 70 years, the two districts have enjoyed a close relationship with countless Illawarra juniors playing for St George thereby encapsulating Mark Coyne?s notion of ?kindred spirit?. In 1937, Port Kembla?s, Charlie 'Saus' Hazleton, became Southern Division?s first international. Like many before him and many more after, ?Saus? played for St George. He scored 17 tries in 1939 and was heralded as Australia?s best winger. A South Coaster who possessed the heart of a Dragon, Charlie eventually passed away in 1985 following a St George v Illawarra match, where he applauded both sides.
But it ultimately comes down to what people think today. At a recent function, Illawarra?s favourite son and noticeably robust, Graeme ?Changa? Langlands reckoned the suffix has to go.
?We should be called St George? Illawarra is a great backyard but? we are St George!? said Changa.
He?s not alone offcourse. There?s the army of fans, ex-players, media, referees and even some sponsors who call us St George. Then there?s the current crop of players. During interviews, team captain and Illawarra junior, Trent Barrett often calls us ?St George?. Some say this is a product of lazy youth but I asked the club what they thought and I got it from the top that Trent had been asked by the board to call the team, ?St George-Illawarra?. In his next post-match interview, Trent called us ?St George? again.
In 1999, when the Dragons ran onto the field, they represented the reunification of two proud districts and with that a history which cannot be denied. I guess when all?s been said, it really is okay to start calling us 'St George' again.
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