New spin on local cricket
A BATSMAN from Macksville, a spinner from Sri Lanka and some Gold Coast raiders highlight the off-season player movements heading into the opening day of FNC LJ Hooker League cricket.
But strong sides of recent years such as Casino Cavaliers, Tintenbar-East Ballina, Ballina Bears, Cudgen and a new-look South Tweed Colts remain the teams to beat, according to Hooker League president David Hutchinson.
“I think it's going to be a good season, a tight competition,” he said.
“Last year (Ballina) Bears and Casino got away from everyone and then it was a fight for the last couple of spots but this year I think there will be six or seven going for the top four.
“I think the top four from last year will definitely be up there again and probably Marist Brothers, who I think are a dark horse.”
The team causing the biggest stir is South Tweed Colts, who have recruited six players from nearby Gold Coast first-grade.
“They are an unknown at the moment,” Hutchinson said.
“I know they had 24 guys trying out for second grade which shows they have a lot of depth and I suppose you could say they've underperformed in recent years.”
While the Colts have been the most active in recruiting players, a few local teams have also gone outside the box to beef up their line-ups.
Lennox Head have signed a Sri Lankan off-spinner who is due to arrive in December, while they are negotiating to entice a couple of English players Down Under.
Lennox will also have a Macksville batsman - not Phillip Hughes, but another promising player, Daniel Emm.
The word from Pirates president Steve O'Neill is that Emm is a former Mid North Coast Bradman Cup representative.
Mark Denmeade is the new Lennox captain.
As reported yesterday in The Northern Star, defending premiers Ballina Bears have added English duo Aaron Jeal and Ben Collins but are yet to confirm whether star all-rounder and club coach Nathan Anson will return.
Byron-Brunswick will be led by wicketkeeper-batsman Reed Campbell.
“Our bowling and our one-day game have been our strengths, for sure,” Campbell said.
“I'd like to think we can capitalise a bit more with our batting.”
Alstonville, which just missed the semi-finals last season, also remain relatively unchanged with seamer Scott Petty taking over as captain.
However, they will welcome back batsman Troy Cook.
The other Ballina District team, Tintenbar-East Ballina, looks likely to remain a competition heavyweight particularly with wicketkeeper-batsman Scott Hogden and swing bowler Lucas Wagland available again.
Veteran batsman Peter Leeson has returned to the club along with leg-spinner Kim Tyson.
Opening batsman Phil Dalli is captain and he believes the side is stronger than the combination that made the semi-finals last season.
However, the 'Bar have received a big blow with fast bowler Mark Newstead deciding to step down from the Hooker League.
Meanwhile, in Lismore, new Workers captain Paul Ianna believes his young team's strength will be a four-pronged pace attack which includes the 2008-09 Hooker League player of the year, left-armer Jason Caught.
Caught will receive more support this year with the inclusion of two pacemen, Sam Tomlinson and Thao Causley, both new to the club, while seamer Jarred Parsons is set to return from injury.
Marist Brothers will look to the continued development of their juniors for success, with five teenagers in the side for today.
Captain Craig Ferguson hopes his young veterans, many of whom received a baptism of fire last season, will mature and provide some consistent performances.
Ferguson believes the Brethren's strength will be their batting, saying he had some concerns over his side's ability to bowl out the opposition.
With this in mind, much will hinge on the performances of young pacemen Adam Thompson and Jared Seiffert.
Similarly, Southern Districts captain Richard Nind believes his team will struggle to bowl out sides with the loss of the irrepressible Lenard Blok and Craig Bateman.
Blok has stepped away from most cricket, although he may be available for some one-day games, while Bateman has injured his shoulder and will start the summer in LDCA first grade.
However, Souths have picked up a left-arm medium-fast bowler from Darwin, Matt Robinson, who is in town for uni, while wicketkeeper-batsman Ryan Howard has moved from Brothers.
Veteran middle-order batsman Rex Parrish has opted to return from a one-season retirement to play with his son, Matt.
And Casino have regained finger spinner Michael Wood and former NSW Country opening bat Adam Shields.
Both have played intermittently over the past couple of seasons but the pair have committed for this season with Shields the new curator at Queen Elizabeth Park.
Captain Al Nowlan said Todd Summers and Wes Koskela were expected to return from England next month, while teenagers Brendan McGuire and Jay Wotherspoon would also get a chance in first grade.
First round: Casino Cavaliers v Lennox Head at Queen Elizabeth Park, Casino; Ballina Bears v Southern Districts at Fripp Oval, Ballina; Tintenbar-East Ballina v Brunswick-Byron at Kingsford Smith Park, Ballina; Cudgen v South Tweed Colts at Reg Dalton Oval, Kingscliff; Terranora Lakes v Marist Brothers at Bilambil Turf; Alstonville v Murwillumbah at Hill Park Oval, Wollongbar; Workers v Pottsville at Nielson Park, East Lismore.