WOMEN IN SPORT
Former NSW and ACT centre Craig Wells is convinced the region boasts an abundance of untapped potential in women's rugby league and rugby union.
Wells saw the world as a professional rugby player for more than 20 years before moving back to Australia in 2011.
He spent last season coaching Kiama in the Illawarra competition - he played for the club in 1997 - but is now relishing his coaching role with Illawarra Sports High's talented girls teams.
The 42-year-old has already had an impact, steering the school's under 16 side to undefeated records at last month's respective league and union gala days at Albion Park.
But Wells doesn't want to be the focus of this story.
"It's all about the girls - they've been great," he said.
"A lot of them hadn't really played too much footy. I've been with them for three months now and they've been great listeners and put in the hard work.
"Not only has that shown with us going undefeated in those two tournaments, but also with us having five girls selected to play in the Dragons under 16 team."
Wells said he was initially surprised by the skills, athleticism and commitment of his relatively inexperienced players. Now he believes the sky is the limit for many of them.
"Considering I'd been away quite a while and I came back not knowing about the youth development side of things, the talent level has certainly been an eye-opener, not just at our school but at other schools as well," the former backline enforcer said.
"We've got three girls who are only 13 and already shown a heap of potential, and there's really good players like Chelsea Sullivan at Warrawong High and Kaarla Cowan at Lake Illawarra High.
"From my experience coaching these girls, there's at least a handful that could go on to higher representative honours."
Former Gerringong girl Ruan Sims is living proof that the Illawarra and South Coast produces top-flight players.
The sister of NRL players Ashton, Tariq and Korbin, Sims has represented Australia in both codes.
"Ruan Sims is a great inspiration because she's played in World Cups for Australia in both union and league.
"A lot of girls could be looking up to what she's achieved.
"There's a world out there for them to experience and enjoy, and really get all the benefits sport has to offer, whether it's league or rugby or both."
Wells will guide Illawarra Sports High's under 14 team at next Thursday's statewide Captain's Cup in Sydney.
"I was a rugby league player up until I was 16 at Berkeley High and I changed to rugby union.
"It's been a 25-year journey playing and representing and travelling to different countries, and it's brought me back to where it all started.
"It's an honour and a privilege to be part of the future growth of league and union in this area."