Robert Stone: interview with SOTV

Robert Stone (Executive Officer of the St George DRLFC) took time out to share his thoughts in this exclusive interview with Saints On TV at www.showroom.com.au/dragons

SOTV: I'd like to start of by asking you about your playing days. I still have vivid memories of the 1977 Grand Final replay at the SCG. While sitting in the Sheridan Stand and in a moment that brought the house down, I saw you run some 40 metres to score under the posts. Not bad for a back rower. Tell us what your favourite memories are as a player and how many of these memories come from playing at Kogarah. Who was the best player you played with or against?

RB: My two favourite memories of Rugby League are of scoring that try in 1977 and being told at Kogarah Oval one Tuesday night that I had been selected in First Grade. Billy Smith was always my favourite player. He was many years ahead of his time - The Joey Johns of the 60's and 70's. Billy had that competitive edge and was one of the toughest men I have met.

SOTV: For those who don't know, what exactly is the difference between your position as Football Club CEO and Peter Doust's position as Leagues Club CEO. In particular, what are the responsibilities of the two offices and do these responsibilities overlap at all?

RB: Peter Doust is the Chief Executive Officer of the St George Illawarra Dragons, he is also Deputy Chairman Of both the St George DRLFC and the St George Leagues Club and I am Executive Officer of the St George DRLFC. I am also on the Board of the St George Leagues Club.

When the Joint Venture was put together a void was left for someone to look after the local St George area. The St George District Football Club Board recognised this and I was employed to ensure that the District is properly serviced. While Peter looks after the Dragons and is responsible to the Dragons' Board, I am responsible to the Board of the St George District Rugby League Football Club. My brief includes the following:

* Secretary to the Board of the St George DRLFC * Delegate to the NSWRL * Oversee Development in the Junior League and Schools * Charged with ensuring that our past history is properly recognised and that our past players are correctly serviced (a huge job) * Protection of our intellectual property * Responsible for the maintenance of Kogarah Oval

It is fair to say that both Peter and I work very closely as the Dragons have vested interest in ensuring that our history is preserved and that Kogarah Oval is well maintained, not only as a training venue for the Dragons, but as a community asset for the future.

SOTV: Many fans are concerned about the club's commitment to returning to playing home games at Kogarah Oval. Can you explain the club's intentions in this area and what barriers are stopping the team playing at Kogarah in the near future?

RB: The Boards of the St George DRLFC and the St George Leagues Club are committed to playing in the St George area if a suitable venue is found.

Both Peter and I have met with the Council and specifically Jim Taylor, the Mayor and Gary Sawyer the General Manager. We have formed a “Working Committee” to look into “all aspects relating to the future of Kogarah Oval”.

We are currently looking into the long-term viability of the Grandstand.

The Council commissioned an Engineer's Report on the Grandstand at Kogarah Oval and this was presented to us on 2 April 2002. We had our own Engineer look at the Council Report and presented our own report to the Council on 16 April 2002. We are currently waiting to hear back from the Council.

As you would realise the Kogarah Oval issue is a very emotional one for a large number of people including the Board of the Club. Some supporters would see us there tomorrow playing against the Bulldogs. Unfortunately, this is not practical. The Oval does need a substantial injection of funds if it is to be used on a regular basis. Funds of this nature need to be outsourced and we are currently lobbying the State and Federal Government to enlist support for a move back to Kogarah Oval. We have had a number of meetings with Local Members from within the area in relation to the Kogarah Oval issue and are quite confident of their future support.

SOTV: The new Northern Grand Stand at WIN Stadium has been in the news lately over its future name. A popular choice has been 'The Graeme Langlands Stand'. Has there been any discussion about the naming of the stand? Rumours suggest that the stand will have a sponsor's name. When do you think a decision might be made?

RB: It is my understanding that the new stand at WIN Stadium in Wollongong has already been named the Northern Grandstand. The Graeme Langlands stand sits well with me and if, down the road, a sponsor was found, what would be wrong with naming it, lets say the BHP “Changa” Langlands Stand. To be honest, I am not up to date with the politics surrounding the naming of the Stand.

SOTV: Do you think home ground issues as a whole are affecting team morale? Do players feel more comfortable playing at a home ground such as WIN or Kogarah?

RB: Issues relating to the team's performance really should go through the Dragons. Personally I believe that professional players should be able to adjust to any venue.

I have a firm belief that team spirit/friendship/culture is the prime requisite for winning. Whether the culture of the Dragons has been affected by different venues I am unable to say. I guess it is fair to say that the Dragons' NRL form has been a little disappointing. It is also fair to say that we haven't had our best team on the paddock for more than one game. It is easy to pass judgment using results but let me say that Rugby League culture is very complicated and finding the right balance to ensure success is very difficult. I do believe that, with the best possible team on the paddock, we can beat any team in the competition.

SOTV: Do you think Saints can turn their season around enough to be 2002 top four contenders?

RB: As stated already I do believe the Dragons have been a little disappointing but we still have a long way to go. We have the players to win the competition but to be honest we will probably have to do it from outside the top four.

The St George Illawarra Dragons are ideally placed to become a powerhouse of the game in the next few years.

We have two very successful Leagues Clubs supporting the team. We have two areas supplying supporters and we have two areas supplying future NRL players.

Put this scenario up against some of our local NRL Clubs where Leagues Clubs are at best break even and you can see that the future of the St George Illawarra Dragons is very solid.

SOTV: In general terms, what sort of club do think St George Illawarra will be in say, ten years from now? What do you believe is require for the club's continued success?

RB: My thoughts on “future success” revolve around the Club continuing to provide the promising players they are producing now and continuing to build a culture where players and management are reluctant to leave because the Dragons are a great team to play for.

SOTV: Anthony Mundine recently put his hand up to play with Saints again. According to media releases, he was only interested playing a few games' and the club kindly rejected his offer. How was the news of Anthony's offer received by the club and how did you react? Also, what chances are there of Anthony playing with Saints should he be 100% available in 2003?

RB: Anthony Mundine is one of the best athletes I have seen. His ability to play the game is unquestioned but I am not convinced he is committed to a full-time position at the Club. What I will say about Anthony is that he has split the Club down the middle. 50% of the supporters want to burn the Club down if he doesn't return and the other 50% want to burn it down if he does.

As for 2003, I really couldn't comment on him returning unless I sit down and have a talk to him.

SOTV: ...thanks very much for your time.
Saints On TV

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