The Cessnock District Cricket Competition is due to kick off this weekend.
The first grade competition has unfortunately been reduced to five teams after Supporters Club withdrew from the competition.
This leaves the competition with a bye, with Mulbring the early favourites to make it five consecutive titles following their seven-wicket victory over minor premiers Greta/Branxton in last year's decider.
In second grade Supporters, unfortunately, do not have a side in this grade either, but the return of the Hotel Denman Dragons sees the competition once again consist of six teams.
Last year's premiers Bellbird will be looking to go back-to-back, but a strong looking Dragons roster will see them hard to topple for the title this season.
Third grade has been bolstered to eight teams with the inclusion of Hotel Denman and a second Peden's Hotel team. Premiers Greta/Branxton White will be looking to defend their title.
Fourth Grade will also consist of eight teams, with a second Bellbird team joining the competition. Chelmsford Hotel were last year's premiers.
As was the case in the previous two years, an extended break from the 40-over format over the Christmas period will be offset with the inter-club two-tiered T20 competition which will take place at the back end of December and early January.
Unfortunately, there will only be the one Cessnock junior competition played in U/11's which will consist of seven teams.
All other association teams nominated in older age groups will play in the Maitland District Competition.
Bellbird Cricket Club will be conducting Master Blasters of a Saturday morning 9am - 10:30am starting on November 2 and it will run through to December 21. The competition is recommended for kids aged 7-10, for further information contact Ben Fairlie on 0432 790 424.
FIRST GRADE SEASON PREVIEW
Last Season: 3rd, 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 (Kurri), Scott Miller (Wine Country).
Losses: Ben Troke (Merewether), Nic Siers (injury).
An up-and-down campaign last year saw the Tigers finish the regular season in third spot, and their premiership hopes were crushed when they were soundly beaten by arch-rivals Mulbring in the semi-final.
This season sees opening bowler Ben Troke return to Newcastle, and handy all-rounder Nic Siers will sit the season out after suffering a knee injury in the off season.
These losses are probably cancelled out with the timely return of Rob Clark and former association player of the year Scott Miller, from whom the Tigers will be looking upon to spearhead their attack.
If he can produce somewhere near the form of his glory days, and with skipper Drage, Jason Orr and Fairlie brothers Ben and Matt leading the way with the willow,
The Tigers should be pushing for a home semi-final.
Last Season: Minor Premiers, beaten grand finalists.
Captain: Joey Butler/Nathan Holz
Premierships: Three (2004-05, 2007-08, joint 2013-14).
Gains: Kyle Hall (Maitland Eastern Suburbs), Bryce Element (Newcastle University)
Losses: Brent Watson (injury), Jake Goodyer (work overseas), Dave Condran (not playing).
Bottom Line: The Blues dropped their opening match last season before going on a ten-game straight winning streak on the back of some outstanding batting performances to win the minor premiership in a canter.
Unfortunately, though they saved their worst batting performance for the big day in the premiership decider when they were humbled at the hands of Mulbring by seven wickets.
Prodigal son and genuine all-rounder Jake Goodyer won't return from America for his annual summer vacation this season, which leaves a fair gap to fill.
However a couple of handy bowling inclusions in Kyle Hall from the Maitland competition and returning local junior Bryce Element after a stint in the Newcastle competition will boost their strong bowling ranks headed up by incumbent association player of the year Martin Shearer.
Sixteen-year-old all-rounder Connor Thomson picked a good game to debut in last year's grand final and he will see a lot more of the four-piece ball this year.
Run-scoring machine Josh Dagg had a moderate year by his high standards last year so he will be looking to make amends this year with the willow.
Throw co-skippers Butler and Holz in the batting mix along with near-fifty veterans Greg Andrews and Darren Thomson and the Blues will be looking to complete some unfinished business from last year.
Last Season: 2nd, Premiers.
Captain: Cameron Ross
Premierships: Thirteen (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, 2018-19).
Gains: Brad Turner (Wine Country), Zac Sneesby (Supporters), Jason Varoxis (Newcastle City).
Losses: Scott Robertson (work), Matt Zechel (Peden's Hotel).
The Marlins did enough to secure a home semi final last year after finishing the regular season in second place.
But the most dominant side of the past decade proved exactly that once again in the decider, humbling minor premiers Greta/Branxton by seven wickets at East End.
It seems that players are queuing up to play for this great club, with class all-rounder Brad Turner and Supporters Club paceman Zac Sneesby joining their ranks.
Jason Varoxis returns after a short stint in Newcastle and along with last year's association leading run-scorer Drew Olsen they will lead the charge with the bat.
About the only headache skipper Cameron Ross will have is finding room to fit everyone in. With association co-leading wicket-taker Ben Neaves tearing in once again with the four-piece, it is hard to see anyone stopping the Rossy Smith shield returning to the foot of the Watagan Mountains for the fifth straight year.
Last Season: 6th
Captain: Matthew Hopley
Premierships: Seven (1970-71, 1972-73, 1973-74, 1977-78, 1979-80, 1980-81, 1983-84).
Gains: Matt Zechel (Mulbring), Matt Brodie, Tim Goldman, Jamie Larson (all Supporters), Bailey Robinson (Wallsend).
Losses: Scott Burgess (family commitments), Scott Bendeich (semi-retired).
After what promised to be a successful campaign last season, the Piranhas won just the one game to finish with the dreaded wooden spoon - a piece of cutlery that has been seen regularly in the trophy cabinet at Peden's Hotel over the past decade.
But club president Tom Lantry has had a big off season in luring local junior Matt Zechel back to the club, and with Supporters falling over they have picked up some handy inclusions from there.
Their new-look batting line up now looks to be more balanced than in previous campaigns.
Mark Crowfoot made a successful return to the game last season after a 15 year lay-off, so he will only continue to improve with time in the middle.
Skipper Hopley takes the reins back from Scott Burgess, and is still capable of notching a ton before the shine goes off the new ball.
The youthful Daniel Russell went within a whisker of notching his maiden century last year, and he too will only continue to get better with age and experience.
Ben Read will spearhead their bowling attack once again with Dale Johnstone, and with young quick Bailey Robinson and Tim Goldman, the Piranhas have every right to feel optimistic about the season that lies ahead of them.
The should make the semis.
Last Season: 4th, beaten semi-finalists.
Captain: Luke Jeans
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).
Losses: Scott Miller (Bellbird), Brad Turner (Mulbring).
The Wood Ducks snuck into the semi-finals last year, but some in-house dramas leading into their biggest game of the year saw them field a well-below strength side against minor premiers Greta/Branxton.
They batted first and were dismissed for just 74 before the heavens opened up, consequently ending the game and their season due to the higher team progressing to the grand final.
Two of their best from last year Miller and Turner departing leaves their line-up fairly depleted, so they will need massive seasons with the bat from club president Mark O'Hara and former skipper Matt Lightfoot who both notched over 300 runs last year.
Newly appointed skipper Luke Jeans will also have to lead from the front with bat and ball and hope that the youthful Wayne Harris steps up to the plate to take wickets with the new ball.
Hopefully Rob Sidebottom will be back fit again after a knee injury all but ended last year's campaign in just the second round.
They may cause an upset or two throughout the season, but doing this on a regular basis without the required depth will be the acid test.
- Pedens v Greta Branxton at East End Oval
- Bellbird Workers v Mulbring at Carmichael 1
- Wine Country Cricket Club bye
Games start at 1pm.