The Dragons' new high-performance centre at Fairy Meadow could see the team move up to the level of competition powerhouse Penrith, Steelers board member Bob Millward said.
The Panthers have won the last two premierships with the help of its own centre of excellence and Mr Millward felt the Dragons could follow in their footsteps.
"What Penrith have achieved in recent years, they've gone up the top of the mountain to Katoomba and then along that Western Plain and that's where they're getting a lot of their juniors and developing them," Mr Millward said.
"They have a great centre of excellence at Penrith. I've always had the view that the coastal region - St George, Illawarra, South Coast - had that potential to achieve what Penrith are achieving at the moment.
"I think the establishment of a centre of excellence at Fairy Meadow is only going to support that and assist that in fulfilling it in the future."
A development application for the $50 million Community and High Performance Centre has been lodged with Wollongong City Council, which will include two playing fields, locker rooms, state-of-the-art gym, aquatic recovery centre, full physiotherapy facilities, spa and lecture theatre.
Also, it will see the club's administration and football operations brought together. These operations are now split between Kogarah and Wollongong.
The Dragons' men's and women's teams will be able to train at the same time once the new centre is built on land at Innovation Campus.
The centre will have separate men's and women's locker rooms, which will be identical in size - though with the addition of individual shower cubicles for the female rooms.
Alicia Kate-Hawke works with the Dragons NRLW squad and she was pleased to see the proposed facility incorporate the women's game.
"The thing that I'm really excited about with the plan so far is seeing allocated resources and changing rooms and access to things that are going to be specific to the NRLW and for the women's game," Ms Kate-Hawke said.
"It makes it clear moving forward that there is a valued space for women in this game. And we're seeing that growing more and more."
The NSW government is kicking in $40 million in funding for the project, which is expected to be opened in late 2024.
NSW Treasurer Matt Kean was at Innovation Campus to formally announce the project.
"I'm so proud that the NSW government is now fostering the next generation of sporting talent across this region," Mr Kean said.
"This will see a state-of-the-art high performance centre to support our elite athletes in the Illawarra and across the region, but it will also be a community facility supporting our local footy kids coming together, being able to kick a ball and have a great time."
The funding follows on from the government chipping in more than $60 million to the Wests Tigers' recently opened centre of excellence and plans to fund similar facilities for NRL clubs Parramatta and Canterbury.
Mr Kean was questioned as to whether the Dragons facility was an appropriate way to use taxpayers' money.
"This is not just an investment in footy," he said.
"This is an investment in the Illawarra. We want to see the Illawarra continue to be a rugby league stronghold."
Andrew Lancaster, CEO of Dragons part-owner WIN Corporation, said it would see a world-class facility "right here in Wollongong".
"It's about building a better Dragons and having all of our staff in the one location for the first time in Dragons history," Mr Lancaster said
"The divide of having administration up in Kogarah and football operations in Wollongong will no longer be there."
The facility will be built at the northern end of Innovation Campus, where the heritage-listed Nissen and Quonset huts used for childcare and the Alumni Bookshop are now located.
A separate development application for their relocation has been lodged.
Building a stronger culture
Having a high performance centre for the Dragons at Fairy Meadow will mean teams and staff will be able to foster connections, according to club CEO Ryan Webb.
The proposed centre at UOW's Innovation Campus will feature two playing fields as well as separate men's and women's locker rooms, a gym, aquatic recovery centre and lecture hall, as well as office space for the University of Wollongong's education and research programs.
At present office staff are split across the club's Kogarah and Wollongong bases, with teams using the oval behind WIN Stadium, university grounds and even suburban football fields for training.
It hasn't been an ideal situation, especially given there have been times when the club could not get access to the university grounds.
With two separate football fields on site, it means two teams can train at the same time.
"The women and the men can't train at the same time now because we physically don't have enough space where we're working," Mr Webb said.
"So some will train up at the main campus of the uni, some will train down at WIN Stadium and other times they're training at local suburban grounds."
The new home base would also allow the club to create a "stronger culture", with junior teams able to mingle with the NRL sides, as well as staff interacting with players.
"One of the benefits when you're in an elite sports team is the motivational and inspirational aspect of the juniors and young players - male and female - being in an elite environment and being around those elite players," Mr Webb said.
"At the moment we don't get that. It's rare because we can't bring the juniors in at the same time as the men.
"Getting everyone under one roof allows us to leverage that and build a stronger culture."
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