The Cessnock District Cricket Competition is due to kick off this weekend with the big question can Mulbring win four first grade titles in a row?
In a major boost to the association the East Cessnock Bowling Club have come on board as the major sponsor for the upcoming season.
The first grade competition will once again consist of six clubs, with Mulbring the early favourites to make it four consecutive titles following their memorable last over victory over Supporters Club in last year’s decider.
Second grade has unfortunately been reduced from eight teams down to six.
Mulbring were unable to field a team, and Denman Hotel have folded. Greta/Branxton will be looking to defend their title following their drought-breaking premiership victory over Chelmsford Hotel last year.
Third grade has also been reduced to a six team competition, with Denman Hotel and Peden’s Hotel the omissions from last year. Laguna were last year’s champions following their comfortable eight-wicket victory over Greta/Branxton Blue in the grand final.
There has been a shuffle around in the fourth grade competition.
Last year six teams competed. This year Mulbring will not field a side, but Chelmsford Hotel and the newly formed Cessnock Hotel have been added to make it a seven team competition, with a bye included.
Greta/Branxton won last year’s decider over minor premiers Wine Country.
As was the case last year, an extended break from the 40-over format over the Christmas holiday period will be supplemented with the inter-club two-tiered T20 competition which will take place January.
Unfortunately, there will only be junior competitions played in U/10’s (four teams) and U/12’s (six teams).
There were only three teams nominated in U/14’s, and one team in U/16’s, so these will play in the Maitland District Competition.
With clubs busy recruiting players in the off season, MARK BERCINI provides a preview of what to expect in the top grade this season.
Last Season: 4th, beaten semi-finalists.
Captain: Rob Drage
Premierships: Eleven (1930-31, joint 1991-92, 1995-96, 1997-98, 1998-99, 2001-02, 2006-07, 2009-10, joint 2012-13, joint 2013-14, 2014-15).
Gains: Robert Clark (Supporters)
Losses: Dave Gyler (retired).
Bottom Line: An up-and-down campaign last year saw the Tigers finish the regular season in fourth spot, and were narrowly edged out by eventual premiers Mulbring in their semi-final showdown.
This was the first time they failed to reach the decider after featuring in the previous eight straight grand finals.
Sadly, the association bids farewell to the emperor of Carmichael Park - Dave Gyler, who after over 40 years in the top grade has decided to call it quits. He will undoubtedly go down as the greatest spin bowler the district has ever seen.
Other than that, not much else has changed out in the association’s western suburbs. Veteran Andrew Howson returns full time after back surgery in the off-season. He adds to an already strong batting line up headed up by skipper Drage, Jason Orr, and Ben and Matt Fairlie.
Their bowling line-up is also well balanced, with Billy Orr, Matt Tomlinson, Ben Troke, Elliott Gyler and Nic Siers leading the way.
If they can improve their consistency they should be pressing for that all important top two finish and a home semi-final.
Last Season: 3rd, beaten semi-finalists.
Captain: Nathan Holz/Joey Butler
Premierships: Three (2004-05, 2007-08, joint 2013-14).
Gains: Tanveer Singh (India), Jayden Galvin (Muswellbrook).
Losses: Brent Watson (injury), Barry Richards (indoor cricket), Jake Goodyer (work), Dave Condran (not playing), Damien Frize (not playing)
Bottom Line: The Blues’ horror semi-final record continued last year, bowing out at this stage for the fourth consecutive season.
The loss of skipper Watson, Goodyer and Condran has depleted their bowling ranks, along with wicket-keeper/batsman Richards leaves a big hole to fill.
There has been a changing of the guard, with last year’s club MVP Nathan Holz and sturdy top order bat Joey Butler combining to lead the Blues’ charge.
With a depleted attack, mounting pressure will be placed upon the likes of Josh Dagg, Butler and veteran Greg Andrews to provide the bulk of the runs.
Indian medium pace recruit Tanveer Singh looks to be a handy inclusion and he will look to take wickets along with skipper Holz, the ever-improving Marty Shearer, and returning from knee surgery Alex Walkling.
One feels the Blues are still one strike bowler short of providing a real threat in this year’s competition.
Last Season: Minor/Major Premiers.
Captain: Cameron Ross
Premierships: Twelve (1971-72, 1992-93, 1994-95, 2002-03, 2003-04, 2005-06, 2010-11, 2011-12, joint 2012-13, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18.
Gains: Brock Gilmour (Waratah-Mayfield).
Losses: Jason Varoxis (Newcastle City), Sam Apthorpe (not playing).
Bottom Line: The Marlins have been the most dominant side of the past decade.
Last year they completed the cricketing grand slam when they took out the inaugural T20 competition, the minor premiership, and put the icing on the cake by claiming the Rossy Smith Shield for the third consecutive year following a final over four-wicket victory over a gallant Supports Club in the decider.
The inclusion of former Waratah-Mayfield first grade batting all-rounder Brock Gilmour boost a batting line up already oozing class. Last year’s association player of the year Drew Olsen will lead the charge along with skipper Ross, Josh Lewis and Mick Mascord.
Ben Neaves spear-heads their bowling attack along with Darren Sutton and Matt Zechel, with Ross completing a fine line up with his left arm spinners.
Work, weddings and other commitments will test their depth early in the season, but with all players on deck at the business end of the season it’s going to take a good side to stop the premiership returning to the foot of the Watagan Mountains for the fourth straight year.
Last Season: 5th
Captain: Scott Burgess
Premierships: Seven (1970-71, 1972-73, 1973-74, 1977-78, 1979-80, 1980-81, 1983-84).
Gains: Matthew Evans (returning), Luke Sweeney (Supporters).
Bottom Line: The Piranhas finished the season on a high last year, claiming a couple of big scalps before winning their final round game to hand the dreaded wooden cutlery back to Wine Country.
Off-spinner Scott Burgess takes over as skipper from Matt Hopley and this may just flag a warning sign for opposition attacks, with the master blaster minus the added pressure of skippering capable of notching a ton before the shine goes off the four-piece.
He will be supported by Mark Crowfoot, Brett Hindmarsh, Justin Barry and the youthful Daniel Russell who was blooded in the top grade last year.
Their bowling attack is fairly balanced as well, with the return of Matthew Evans after a few years on the sidelines to spearhead their attack.
A handy pick up from Supporters in Luke Sweeney adds to their attack and with Ben Read, Dale Johnston and veteran wicket-keeper/batsman Tom Lantry, the Piranhas are optimistic with their premiership chances this year.
Last Season: 2nd, beaten finalists
Captain: Troy Culley
Premierships: Five (1987-88, 1988-89, 1993-94, joint 1999-00, 2000-01).
Gains: Jason McGarrigle
Losses: Robert Clark (Bellbird), Jackson Redmond (work), Luke Sweeney (Peden’s Hotel), Matt Brodie (Toronto), Greg Brodie, Scott Thomson (retired).
Bottom Line: After failing to field a top grade side in 2016-17, the Goannas returned in style last year, going within a whisker of snatching their first title in 17 years.
They have lost some key players, but the timely return of former association player of the year Jason McGarrigle from retirement will provide some starch to their line-up.
Their batting proved to be their strength last year, with skipper Culley, Pete Brennan, Andrew Nicolai, Nathan Stapleford and Mick Gates all scoring in excess of 200 season runs.
If they can perform at a similar level this season, with Nicolai, Stapleford and Jordan Goldman keeping the batsmen guessing with the four-piece, they should press for a home semi-final.
Last Season: 6th
Captain: Matt Lightfoot
Premierships: Thirteen as Wentworth Hotel (1958-59, 1962-63, 1966-67, 1967-68, 1968-69, 1969-70, 1982-83, 1984-85, 1985-86, 1989-90, 1990-91, joint 1991-92, 1996-97).
Gains: Bradley Turner (Central Coast).
Bottom Line: The Wood Ducks break-through year came two seasons ago when they broke a 13-year drought, making the semi-finals for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
Unfortunately they won just two games last year and came crashing back to earth with their second wooden spoon in the past five years.
Matt Lightfoot takes the reins for the third year and needs a big year with the bat if the Potter’s Tavern-based club is to pose any real threat this year.
Club stalwart and association president Stephen Hedger has demoted himself to the lower grades, but Brad Turner from the Central Coast looks to be a handy pick up. He should provide some much-needed steel in the top order.
Opening bat Mark O’Hara seems to be getting better with age and if classy all-rounder Scott Miller and Rob Sidebottom can weave some magic with the ball, the Wood Ducks can easily cause a few upsets.