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R2K recently caught up with David Niu who kindly offered his thoughts on a return to Kogarah and recalled his favourite memories of Jubilee Oval. David played first-grade for St.George in 1990 and 1991 and is currently CEO of the American National Rugby League.
1) David, you played in the match against Parramatta in 1990 when the new grandstand was opened at Kogarah in front of a big crowd. What was the atmosphere like and what are your memories of the day?
DN: I still remember quite clearly the whole day and the excitement surrounding coming back to Kogarah and the opening of the new stand. I lived in Hurstville at the time and walked to the match and enjoyed seeing the huge numbers of people heading for the ground, even early in the day. A great crowd welcomed us back and the players were excited to be returning to Kogarah after having played all our games away for so long. Saints fans are always noisy but they were particularly loud that day. Unfortunately we were beaten by a well performed Parramatta team but it was clear the fans were glad to have us back at home.
2) Do you have a favourite Kogarah Oval memory?
DN: I have many great memories of Kogarah Oval. I went to school at James Cook and grew up in the area and played many high school and junior matches there. Going to the games and sitting on the hill with my family and friends was a special experience for a young kid and believe it or not I still make a point of going to or past the ground with my wife and kids when I get back home, even when it's empty just to see what is going on.
I always wanted to play first grade there and enjoy the game from the other side of the fence, so I have a lot of good memories of playing their with Saints. If I had to pick a favourite memory it would be playing a Commonwealth Bank Cup High School game against Holy Cross Ryde. They brought their whole school to cheer them on and we beat them with players like Scott Gale, Paul Sironen and a number of Australian Schoolboy stars.
Our side had myself and a load of great mates, with Jeff Hardy, Brad Mackay on the bench, and sadly a great mate who passed away, Geoff Selby. I'm sure Kogarah Oval holds many great memories that like that for many kids in the area. It's been a huge part of my life.
I hope the Dragons get back there soon.
3) Do you believe that a homeground advantage is important and have you got an example of where the homeground advantage has got one of your sides over the line?
DN: No doubt home ground advantage is important. A big part of being successful is preparation. Being at your own home ground and with familiar surroundings supports that preparation process.
I believe the more routine and ordered your schedule and preparation is the more optimal you make your chances of being successful.
Kogarah Oval is a village type of venue. It has a certain character that stadium type venues don't have. The crowd gathers on the hill and the intimacy of being together in a tight group lends itself to a tribal type of cheering and support.
I remember we beat Brisbane in difficult windy conditions in 91. We got off to a good start into the wind the crowd and home support really lifted the players throughout the whole game. They were full of internationals but we had each other and 18,000 fans behind us.
4) With the abandonment of Kogarah Oval, the St.George Juniors don't have a local side to aspire to. Do you think it is important for the St.George Juniors to have a St.George district side to aspire to?
DN: The current situation is unfortunate. All young athletes and players need goals to aspire to. The Rugby League I knew in Australia before I moved to America was very parochial and territorial. Players and fans enjoyed the relationship between their club and it's roots.
Local players developing into senior representatives developed a sense of pride in those communities and those values translated into what many administrators today will list on their balance sheets in the form of gate receipts, merchandise sales, concessions, etc. My feeling is that the players, the fan and the club need to feel vested in what they support. The players want the support of the fans, the fans want players they can relate to and cheer for, and the club needs both to maintain it's operation. With the changes that took place in the game over the past number of year the interaction of the three has broken down and unfortunately the biggest losers are the fan and the young player. Hopefully that can improve.
5) What advice would you give to Dragons fans keen to see the team back at Kogarah?
DN: My advice is simple. Stay committed to what your beliefs are. I think Souths fans proved how valuable and powerful a united force of loyal fans and supporters is. Demonstrate how the move back to Kogarah impacts and benefits the community. What has been lost and what can be gained by bringing the Dragons back home. I'm sure a number of board members at the club share the views of traditional Saints fans in getting back to Kogarah. Seek them out. Request their support and invite the rest of the community to support your cause. The return of Souths is positive proof that Rugby League is a life sport that impacts all levels of the community from schools to business.
DN: I am enjoying my time in America immensely. The challenge of developing a new sport in a huge, sports saturated country is tremendous but the return on that hard work is rewarding. Rugby League is a great game and opening the eyes and minds of new players and audiences is a fantastic feeling.
The response is exciting and we now have our own programme each Friday Night on Foxsports featuring NRL matches along with the State of Origin Series Live which reaches almost 24 million viewers. We look forward to developing the game across the country and ultimately Rugby League being enjoyed in schools and clubs nationally.
I learned a tremendous amount during my time with Saints and stay in contact with many of the players and coaches. A number of guys from that period are now coaches and or administrators in the NRL so it certainly helps in the operation of our League via technical support and professional advice.
Our National Team, the Tomahawks, played South Sydney back in 2000 and helped in their efforts to get back in the NRL. That being the case, it would be great to bring the Tomahawks down to play a Saints Team to develop interest in an effort to get the Dragons back to Kogarah!