OKI vs WIN: the stadium battle

Courtesy Brad Forrest (St.George Leader)

With their feet, St.George-Illawarra fans could force a swing of more home games to Kogarah's Oki Jubilee Stadium next year.

WIN Stadium presently hosts the greater number of Dragons home games (seven to five).

However, if Kogarah's average crowd figures for their five home games top those at WIN this season, the football club management will be under pressure to stage more matches - or at least an even share - of home games at Kogarah for the 2006 season.

So far crowds averaging about 13,500 have attended the first six games in Wollongong this season, with the club in continuing lease talks with the Wollongong Entertainment Centre over next season's plans.

With the first grade team's return to form, the Dragons management expect a near sell-out, or about 16,000 fans, for Sunday's game against North Queensland Cowboys at Oki - the first Dragons game played there this season.

"All grandstand seating for the Kogarah games have been sold, so we encourage anyone wanting to see the match to pre-purchase tickets or get to the ground early," said Michael McDonald, the Dragons' marketing general manager.

"The surface is in great nick and new Dragons players like Colin Best and Michael Ennis can't wait to actually play a game there."

While additional concourse seating and new turnstiles won't be installed now until after the league season, Sydney's fine weather has allowed workmen lots of time to complete extra work beside the grandstand. New lighting is also on the agenda.

WIN - Numbers don't add up for stadium Paul Suttor-Illawara Mercury

An apparent drop in crowd figures at WIN Stadium this season won't help Wollongong Sportsground Trust's bid to keep seven Dragons home games next year.

Despite a healthy attendance of 14,479 for last Saturday's game, the 2005 Wollongong average is still around 400 per match down from last season.

Dragons chief executive Peter Doust was overjoyed with the higher- than-expected turnout for the 32-18 win over the Warriors, who are traditionally not the biggest drawcards.

Doust said he appreciated the strong support and added that captain Trent Barrett made mention of it when addressing his troops in the dressing-room.

But questions have been raised about whether attendances have actually dropped at the joint venture club's southern venue this year. It is understood that the number of fans coming through the turnstiles is similar to 2004 but the methods used to calculate the final official figures have come up with different tallies.

Negotiations for a new lease at WIN Stadium between the trust and the Dragons began in March and the latest round of talks was held on Friday.

Neither party is commenting on the progress; however it's a fair bet that next year's split of home games will be 6-6 between Wollongong and Kogarah, with WIN Stadium possibly getting a pre-season trial to make up for the loss of a regular season fixture.

Mercury photographer Robert Peet was left red-faced after he inadvertently intervened while Dragons hooker Michael Ennis was lining up a sideline conversion attempt against the Warriors.

Our photographer had his back turned to the action and was focusing - literally - on the fans in the western grandstand for the "face in the crowd" competition, and didn't realise he was impeding Ennis, who was oblivious to the snapper's presence.

Noticing the impending collision, referee Steve Clark rushed in to tell Peet to shift but he didn't move far enough.

The ground manager then scooted over and the penny finally dropped for our hapless photographer that he was holding up an important kick at goal.

Dragons coach Nathan Brown could foresee the drama unfolding from his vantage point in the dugout so he instructed football manager Neil Lovett in no uncertain terms to "tell the bloke with the camera" to scram.

Lovett thought he was referring to one of the TV cameramen, so he yelled at a Fox Sports technician to pull his guy into line.

When Lovett realised he had his wires crossed, he sheepishly apologised.

Barrett said he thought there was a fight in the crowd when he heard them yelling during the break in play, before he realised they were screaming for the photographer to move.

Dragons halfback Mathew Head has no doubt his scrum-base partner Barrett is capable of handling the No7 role in next week's second State of Origin game.

Head, who returned from an ankle injury on the weekend, believes Barrett is one of the competition's form players.

"Baz is probably playing the best I have seen him play in a long time," he said.

The Dragons were concerned about evening dew making WIN Stadium too slippery on Saturday night so they asked the ground staff to apply an anti-dew spray to the surface.

But the reply from the venue officials was along the lines of "they are professional footballers, do we have to make the tackles for them as well?".

In the end the spray was not applied and it didn't matter, because the players stayed on their feet without the assistance of a sticky wicket.