Dragons, Hawks clash over NRL draw

It's a date already marked down in the diary of St George Illawarra’s faithful fans, but the Dragons are at the centre of a scheduling conflict that threatens to spoil rugby league’s return to Wollongong in 2013.

The release of the highly-anticipated NRL draw yesterday pitted the Red V up against the Brisbane Broncos in a round two Friday night blockbuster at WIN Stadium on March 15.

It’s the same night as the Wollongong Hawks’ second last regular season fixture against arch rivals Sydney Kings, due to tip-off 40 minutes before the NRL clash at the WIN Entertainment Centre.

It threatens to descend into a logistical nightmare for sports fans converging on the precinct, who will be desperate to catch their first glimpse of the Dragons at home and watch the Hawks press their claims for a play-off spot against their bitter foes.

Both the Dragons and Hawks also use the same corporate area under the northern grandstand. WIN Sports and Entertainment Centre management will be forced to cater for the vast broadcast requirements of the respective free-to-air networks.

NRL director of football operations Nathan McGuirk told the Mercury the Dragons decided between their Wollongong and Kogarah base for the clash once presented with the dates for their home matches on Thursday.

‘‘The club’s given us a range of venue availability issues and I don’t believe that was one of them,’’ he said.

‘‘We presented the dates of the home matches to the clubs [Thursday] and it was up to the clubs to let us know which venues they will be playing which matches at which occurred [yesterday] morning.

‘‘It’s something the Dragons might not be aware of.’’

McGuirk admitted the NRL were open to a change of venue for the clash, raising the possibility of the match being switched to WIN Jubilee Oval if needed.

‘‘It has been bit of a rushed process. We only finished the draw earlier this week and clubs only received it [Thursday] so that may have been part of the issue.

‘‘If the Dragons need to change a venue they’re able to come back to us and speak to us,’’ he said.

Dragons officials were unavailable for comment last night, while WIN Sports and Entertainment Centre general manager Stuart Barnes did not return calls yesterday.

Hawks general manager Mili Simic, while pointing out the NBL draw was finalised in August, said he had already raised his concerns with WIN Sports and Entertainment Centre management.

‘‘It’s a marquee game. Logistically there could be some issues, but I’ll await the venue response on the issue and hopefully it will [be] rectified,’’ Simic said

The clash, pending Gordie McLeod’s men continue their fast start to season 2012/13, will have basketball officials salivating at the prospect of a full house given the side’s dramatic turnaround.

St George Illawarra’s other Wollongong matches include Parramatta (May 18), North Queensland (June 14), Canberra (July 27), Cronulla (round 23) and the Warriors (round 26).

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