It's been dubbed 'The Dragons Way' and Shane Flanagan's top-to-bottom plan to re-instil Red V DNA into St George Illawarra reaches all the way down to the junior ranks with club great Shaun Timmins taking the reins of the Steelers SG Ball squad.
A 210-game great of the club, Timmins' role sees him act as a conduit between the the club's NRL squad and its junior reps, with he and St George counterpart Willie Talau combining their respective Under 19s coaching gigs with roles alongside the top 30.
It mimics the approach Flanagan took in streamlining Cronulla's junior ranks in his premiership-winning era at the Sharks, with Timmins excited by the rich junior stocks in both the Steelers and Dragons catchments.
"Flanno's big on the pathways and when I met with him after he took over he was really keen for me to coach the SG Ball side," Timmins said.
"The big thing for Flanno is he wants everything transitioned from the NRL back through the grades so he's obviously pushing really hard to have that link between your NRL squad and our junior rep systems.
"We obviously have two in the Steelers and St George and Flanno's got the same set-up with Willie Talau coaching the SG Ball up there. We're both [with the NRL squad] full-time with the plan of taking it back through SG Ball. Back at Cronulla [Flanagan] had the similar type system
"A lot of our structures are the same, a lot of our coaching philosophy is the same and Flanno's big on having people that have been in around the club in those roles. Last year we had kids play SG Balll, Flegg (under 21s) and NSW Cup, so if you're aligning everything with the NRL, it just makes the transition for players so much easier when they're going through the grades."
Having been employed at the club in various assistant coaching, development and mentoring roles in recent years, the SG Ball gig is Timmins' first head coaching role.
In keeping with the Dragons Way, he's enlisted former long-time teammate and Dragons cult figure Mark Riddell as his assistant on a staff that also includes Storm premiership-winner Brian Norrie, the trio boasting a combined 579 NRL games.
"I've been in and around it as an assistant coach for a lot of years, but I've never really had a side myself, so when Flanno asked I was pretty excited," Timmins said.
"You have half an itch to have a go at coaching yourself and there's no better place for me to do it than the Illawarra Steelers. I came through that same pathway myself.
"Flanno's keen to have blokes that have been around the club involved and I was fortunate enough that that's where the pathway was for me. I went through the Steelers, played NRL for Steelers and then was there for the merger.
"I'm big, and I know the club's big, on having good people around and 'Pig' (Riddell) and Brian Norrie are both champion fellas and know their footy as well. When I first got appointed they were the first two boys I was keen to get on my staff with me."
The Steelers 2024 class is widely regarded as one of the more talented to come through the ranks since the likes of Jayden Sullivan, Tyrell Sloan and Talatau Amone spearheaded a charge to the 2019 crown.
While he's unquestionably chasing wins, Timmins said his primary mission is preparing the emerging crop to make the NRL leap.
"I love winning, but trying to develop players that are going to go on to play NRL is the main goal," Timmins said.
"There's some great young talent coming through, as there always has been in the Illawarra. A lot of the kids we've got in this age group have got two years left in SG Ball and there's some really good talent in there.
"We've had [a Steelers] academy set up the last couple of years, so our role is to try and have these kids excelled and ready to handle NRL training once they get that step up. St George are really building nicely in the junior reps as well so it's exciting times for the club as a whole."
The Steelers junior reps campaign will also benefit, for the first time, from having a permanent training base, with the Illawarra Steelers Academy now housed at Wollongong TAFE with a full gym and two fields to house four squads.
"We've got a great training base there for four teams with Ball, Harold Matts and the Lisa Fiola and Tarsha Gale Cup sides," Timmins said.
"It's a perfect training base with the two fields straight outside the gym and the Steelers having its own facilities for the juniors is great for the development."
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