A PUSH to rename St George Illawarra’s feeder team the Steelers has been rejected, leaving the reigning NSW and national champions without a nickname this season.
Illawarra Coal’s sponsorship of the Cutters, who won the NSW Premiership title and interstate grand final last year, ended, prompting officials to dump the name.
However, despite taking the Steelers Club on board as the major sponsor – in a partnership with TAB Corporation – the team will not use the Steelers tag.
At the season launch on Friday, Illawarra chairman Sean O’Connor said the move is designed to reflect the team’s role as a pathway to the NRL, rather than a branding opportunity.
He also said “everything is in the air” beyond this season, as the NRL moves to reinstate the NSW Premierships competition as the feeder, as the under 20’s league ends this year.
“I think everything is in the air for next year,” O’Connor said. “A lot is dependent on sponsorship.
“The general reason for our being is to complete that pathway and that’s thing that will continue. It’s not really about the brand or the name, it’s about the pathway.
“The Steelers juniors compete in the Harold Matthews and SG Ball, the name is still there. Illawarra reflects more the broad role that we play.”
The Steelers were established in 1982, reaching a high point in 1992 when they reached what is now the preliminary final, losing to joint venture partner St George.
Their last season was in 1998, before forming part of the new Dragons entity at the end of the Super League war.
Former players had spoken to Illawarra officials about supporting a return of the Steelers this year after the Illawarra Coal sponsorship ended.
Diehards took to social media backing the move.
It is understood officials of the NRL club were desperate to avoid inflaming any tensions between the Kogarah and Wollongong fan bases. It continues a history of change, after the feeder team has previously been backed by the Shellharbour as the Marlins and the Dragons.
Wearing a jumper identical to the Steelers kit, Illawarra will begin their NSW Premierships title defence against Penrith, in a curtain-raiser to the Dragons game at UOW Jubilee Oval on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve got new sponsors on board, the name change and as a new coach, it brings a new type of atmosphere,” coach Mat Head said.
“My primary goal is to get a lot of these players to play first grade.”