Rival codes up the ante in Illawarra turf war


Brett Morris will be out to show off his try-scoring abilities wearing green and gold. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Brett Morris will be out to show off his try-scoring abilities wearing green and gold. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Hosting an historic Test in Wollongong is a remarkable coup and long overdue for one of rugby league's great heartlands.

However, playing the Four Nations game between Australia and the winner of Samoa and Fiji is also the escalation of a growing turf war in the Illawarra.

This year, St George Illawarra made a tactical retreat to shore up their financial security, playing four games instead of six in the Gong and taking advantage of the incentives of playing at ANZ Stadium and the SCG.

Sensing an opportunity, Football South Coast advanced its position at significant financial risk, digging trenches by playing South Coast Wolves games at WIN Stadium.

The theory is, a foothold in the annual schedule now might just help an A-League venture somewhere down the track.

Conscious of the backlash from the league-loving public about the decision to cut their game-day presence, the Dragons have been the key players in bringing the Test to Wollongong in November.

After all, St George Illawarra realise they have the elite market to themselves, aside from the 2000 or so hardy souls who swear allegiance to the Wollongong Hawks.

The city has copped its knocks in the last 15 years, starting with the demise of the Steelers and the Wolves sinking with the National Soccer League.

While it makes financial sense for the Dragons to play more games at the bigger stadiums, it left gaping holes in the sporting calendar in Wollongong.

Which is why it was a smart play for the Wolves to bunker down for a few cold, wet winters, while the generals at Football South Coast develop a battle plan to make an A-League dream a reality.

Most will snigger at the mention of the Wolves becoming an A-League entity.

And with good reason, given the club is battling to be competitive in the NSW National Premier League and the pre-federal election promise and post-election denial of funding for the West Dapto "home of football" concept.

But the Wolves' current on-field performance has little to do with the future prospects.

Manchester City spent years wallowing around in the English lower leagues, but it was the move to the 2002 Commonwealth Games stadium which put them on the path to becoming the richest club in the world.

The South Coast A-League push is closer to reality than many realise in terms of administrative structure and pursuit of the necessary corporate backing.

FSC is not to blame for the collapse of the home of football. It was a viable plan with a largely sound business case, caught up in political pork-barrelling.

This week, South Coast gained an ally for inclusion in newly appointed A-League All Stars coach, the Spanish Adelaide United manager Josep Gombau.

"In the future of the league, because Australia is a big country, if we can get maybe 14 teams [it] would be a very good league," Gombau said.

"This league is equal in a lot of things or even better than a lot of leagues in Europe.

"We just need to increase the number of the teams - 10 teams in a country like Australia is not enough."

Game On understands the appetite is there among key officials at FFA headquarters in Sydney about expansion and they know South Coast is a major contender.

However, both the FFA and South Coast are all too aware of the past failures of North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United and know they will have just one chance and must get it right.

The true believers in the football community say it's a matter of when, not if.

The NRL - and St George Illawarra - are acutely conscious of it, too, which is why they want to maintain their effective monopoly in Wollongong, while also boosting the purse by playing more in Sydney.

It's why Wollongong became part of the Four Nations scheduling and expect City-Country - provided the concept survives its own critics - and a State of Origin camp to also come back to town in the next four years.


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