Media mogul Bruce Gordon has backed the Illawarra’s long-term future after television network WIN took ownership, officially announced on Monday.
Following prolonged negotiations, the deal will see WIN Corporation take over the Steelers share of the club, with Andrew Gordon taking on the chairman role and Brian Johnston taking over from Peter Doust as chief executive.
It has been confirmed the Steelers junior pathways will remain, allowing the name to remain in the NRL club structure.
The Steelers became part of the St George Illawarra Dragons joint venture at the end of the Super League war.
During the negotiation process with the NRL, there was significant doubts about the future of games at WIN Stadium and the Illawarra’s role in the club, which was $6 million in debt.
It is understood there were two other parties involved in discussions to buy out the Steelers share, as well as interest from the St George Leagues Club.
However, the agreement with WIN Corporation and the Dragons likely guarantees Illawarra having 50 per cent of NRL games played in Wollongong in the long-term.
"WIN has long partnered with the Steelers to bring world class rugby league to the Illawarra and we want that legacy to continue. We have worked closely with Peter Newell, Bob Millward and Sean O'Connor in particular throughout that time," Bruce Gordon said.
"The change of ownership allows us to underpin the amazing heritage of the St George Illawarra Dragons with strong commercial strategy while locking in the pathways for junior players to rise through the ranks of the Steelers to the NRL."
However, the announcement comes with some controversy.
St George Illawarra spent tens of thousands of dollars commissioning an independent recruiting firm to scan almost 100 applicants for its chief executive role before appointing chairman Brian Johnston, who wasn’t an original candidate.
The Dragons have defended the integrity of their recruiting process for one of the most coveted jobs in the NRL, having parachuted long-time administrator Johnston into the role after finalising a deal with WIN Corporation to take a 50 per cent stake in the club.
Fairfax Media understands the Dragons received submissions from 98 administrators across a number of sports both domestically and internationally when they hired respected recruitment agency Sportspeople back in April.
It’s believed Johnston, who headed a sub-committee charged with finding Doust’s replacement, did not originally express a formal interest about transitioning from the chairmanship.
But when WIN, who had told the Dragons they no longer had an interest in purchasing the Illawarra Steelers’ stake in the joint venture back in April, quietly came back to the negotiating table, its representatives expressed a desire for Johnston to take on the role.
He agreed to take on the job and Sportspeople abandoned its months-long screening process which the Dragons had paid for.
Doust said it was a ‘‘deliberate process’’ and Johnston’s ‘‘qualifications and experience’’ as well as ‘‘passion for the Dragons’’ made him the No.1 choice for the job.