THE Group Seven competition has long been a deep well of talent for St George Illawarra, producing the likes of Shaun Timmins, Morris twins Brett and Josh and current back-rower Tariq Sims.
The Dragons current young crop also has a strong South Coast flavour, with Shellharbour duo Jai Field and Blake Lawrie making their NRL debuts last season and Gerringong’s Reuben Garrick looking to do the same in 2018.
The Dragons moved to shore up that pipeline on Tuesday, signing a historic Memorandum of Understanding with the Country Rugby League.
It will see under 16s and under 18s sides compete in next year’s Country Championships as the Illawarra South Coast Dragons, giving players the chance to press for higher honours.
St George Illawarra CEO Peter Doust said the agreement will formalise long-held bond between the Dragons, Group Seven and the Illawarra Rugby League.
“This is a special occasion because it formalises a relationship we’ve had over many, many years,” Doust said
“The St George Illawarra Dragons have supported Group Seven for over 15 years in various forms.
“To now have a more formal relationship committing to help players, coaches and rugby league generally is a significant achievement, with everyone working on the pathway to succeed.”
The link will extend to Illawarra’s junior development sides, with 2017 grand final combatants Jono Dallas (Jamberoo) and Matt O’Brien (Kiama) to take the reins of the Steelers SG Ball squad next season.
Kiama product Timmins welcomed the move, saying it recognised the South Coast’s contribution to the joint-ventures talent stocks.
“The relationship’s been there for a long time, we’ve seen a lot of players come from Group Seven and progress through to the Steelers and the Dragons,” Timmins said.
“I’m all Group Seven, I grew up in Kiama and played there and had a couple of years at Gerringong as well so I love seeing the Group Seven boys come through.
“There’s always been that big brother thing and a bit of a perception that you have to play in the Illawarra comp to make the Dragons but it’s not really the case because we’ve seen a heap of Group Seven guys who’ve come through and played at NRL level.
“You can still see it now with guys like Jai Field, Blake Lawrie and Reuben Garrick coming through so it’s good to see that partnership with the CRL formalised.”
The Steelers junior rep sides have long featured South Coast stars but Timmins believes the new pathway will widen the net and ensure some of the region’s best talent doesn’t fly under the Dragons radar.
“If guys miss out on the Steelers they can go back and play [for Illawarra South Coast] in a similar comp and there’s still that pathway there if they prove themselves and play well,” he said.
“It’s win-win situation for both and presents a good pathway for rugby league players to reach the NRL if that’s their dream.”