Sports fans do Illawarra region proud

The Wollongong Hawks have recruited one of the most talented imports in club history with the signing of NBA prospect Jahii Carson. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

The Wollongong Hawks have recruited one of the most talented imports in club history with the signing of NBA prospect Jahii Carson. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Wolves fans enjoy the FFA Cup match against Central Coast Mariners at WIN Stadium. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Wolves fans enjoy the FFA Cup match against Central Coast Mariners at WIN Stadium. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

OPINION

This week has been all about respect.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T (with apologies to Aretha Franklin and the women's rights movement of the 1960s).

Paul McGregor - announced on Friday as Dragons coach for the next three years - deserves it. Football South Coast has got it. The Wollongong Hawks are earning it.

Unprompted, before a leading question could even be thrust in his general direction, Central Coast's Phil Moss volunteered some gushing praise on Wednesday night for Wollongong and its A-League credentials.

It seems Moss couldn't quite believe the turnout, which was officially 5238, but there's been some discussion this week the figures were understated, which is an unusual move away from the fine sporting tradition of inflating crowd figures.

To put the numbers in context, the NRL clash between Canterbury and Wests attracted only 9877 at ANZ Stadium on another wintry and wet Thursday night.

Other FFA Cup games have barely pushed the 1500 mark, but the Wollongong fanfare for South Coast's 1-0 loss to Central Coast follows the 7000-plus crowd for the A-League All Stars.

"I would like to say that any bid for an A-League club from this area should be fully supported," Moss said.

"It is a fantastic football area and I think, tonight, the Wollongong public really showed they are hungry for an A-League team.

"I hope the people backing it do come out publicly and push for a club down here because it is a fantastic area and great facility down here."

The comments carry extra weight because the Mariners, probably more than any other A-League team, have a similar sporting landscape to South Coast to operate in.

But the most beautiful game in the cosmos isn't the only sport making a renewed impact in Wollongong.

Like the dunking ability of US import Jahii Carson, new owner James Spenceley is ensuring the Hawks are soaring.

Only two months ago Carson was confident of being picked up in the NBA draft.

On Sunday he will take his first glimpse at Wollongong's pristine beaches.

It takes only two minutes on YouTube to see Carson is an excitement machine and will make an impressive backcourt combination with former Hawks NBL MVP Gary Ervin and home-grown talent Tyson Demos.

Carson's signing is also a message the Hawks are not content just to be the 'little team that could' every year and they're ready to mix it with powerhouses like Perth.

Hawks officials have tried everything and anything to build their fan base in recent times and Spenceley may have just found the solution with import signings old and new.

It's come at an important time, too.

The goodwill towards the Hawks after the club was saved by the guarantee of Arun Jagatramka in 2008 has been waning and Spenceley's arrival - and the cash injection which has come with it - is just the tonic. While the Hawks's future is secure, so, too, is that of interim Dragons coach McGregor.

The former Dragons captain signed a deal to take charge until the end of 2017, but more immediately leads St George Illawarra along a treacherous path in search of the NRL finals.

McGregor has long been held in high esteem as a player and in the Illawarra, where he won three premiership with Wests. But he is yet to win the respect of a cynical section of Dragons faithful determined to push for a coach from the outside.

Would a finals berth impress the doubters? Especially those who claim there's some kind of bizarre conspiracy involving Illawarra rugby league officials and the media to ensure McGregor has the job long term?

Probably not.

McGregor is well regarded by the Dragons players, as well as NSW coaching officials like Laurie Daley and Mercury columnist Steve Roach, among others.

But only success next season would help him move past the coaching hangover in the minds of some fans, which has been left by Nathan Brown and Steve Price.

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