Another Cricket Shepparton season is upon us, and Haisman Shield action is again expected to entertain players and spectators alike.
Tomorrow’s round one matches promise to cut through the inevitable pre-season hype surrounding every team and tell us who is ready to go and who should have pulled the kit bag out of the shed a few weeks earlier.
Before that though, News sports reporters Tyler Maher, Adem Barolli and Lauren Bordin take you through where every team sits heading into yet another cricket campaign.
Reigning premier Old Students will need to fend off plenty of challengers to go back-to-back, with most sides adding crucial talent to their line-ups.
At the other end of the table, Tatura will be confident of avoiding a fifth consecutive wooden spoon after recruiting well during winter, but will need to bank early victories to create momentum.
The race for finals berths will be as fierce as ever, with every team currently shooting for the stars, but in the end only six outfits can taste post-season action.
CENTRAL PARK-ST BRENDAN’S
Coach: Andrew Cowen.
Captain: Ramadan Yze.
Last season: Third.
Ins: Andrew Cowen, Callum Whitehead, Sam Ferguson.
Club comment — Andrew Cowen: ‘‘We’ve had a changing of personnel but we’re pretty confident that we’ve recruited well and replaced the players we have lost.
‘‘It means that we’ll have a different look and do things in different ways, but the exciting part is that everyone starts again and gets a look at a different way of doing things.
‘‘We have a core group of senior players and the rest are making their way and establishing themselves, so you’ve got guys in their prime but also guys looking to make this club their own.
‘‘The guys weren’t happy with going out in straight sets last year and a few blokes have plenty left in the tank and now they have something to prove.’’
Key man: Ramadan Yze — The Tigers have lost most of their top-order from last season, with Brayden McGregor, Layton McCann and Connor Hayes all departing the club. It makes Yze’s role even more important this campaign, as he will find himself protecting the tail if early collapses become the norm.
Prediction: First. Despite losing three batsmen and Tom Chalkley, the Tigers remain a force to be reckoned with. This club knows how to win and win well. A fresh face at the helm in Cowen will help reinvigorate a few ageing stars as well.
Coach: Paul Trevaskis.
Captain: Jason Ibbotson.
Last season: Sixth.
Ins: Andrew Poppa.
Club comment — Jason Ibbotson: ‘‘We are pretty stable at the moment and we are hoping to build on from last year. Andrew Poppa comes in and we are expecting big things from him in the top-order, while he can also pinch hit in the bowling attack for us which gives us another dimension.
‘‘To be honest not much has changed, we are confident heading into the season, we had a few blokes who finished the season strongly and we will be hoping for more of the same.
Stuart Turner had a great finish at the end of the last campaign so hopefully he can continue on his good form.
‘‘I think we will are going to be a pretty strong batting side, our depth looks pretty positive, but that will be tested with Chris Keady missing the first few weeks.’’
Key man: Stuart Turner — The prominent bowling figure finished off last campaign in scintillating form, but it was his figures across all competitions that stood out most.
Turner managed 24 wickets in 17 games.
Prediction: 10th. With so many other clubs improving this off season Karramomus will have to get off to a good start if it is to feature in finals. After finishing sixth and not really bolstering their squad in the off-season the Bloods may watch other teams go past them.
Coach: Ben Clurey.
Captain: Jedd Wright.
Last season: Runner-up.
Ins: Mick Peters, Hadliegh Sirett and Luke Nolan.
Club comment — Jedd Wright:
‘‘Losing the grand final to Old Students hurt last season and I think the boys will use that as extra motivation going forward.
‘‘We have brought in a few decent players in Sirett, Nolan and Peters, so we are expecting big things from those guys.
‘‘The boys have worked tremendously hard all season, the depth in both A and B-grade is good, so hopefully that holds us in good stead for the year to come.
‘‘Years gone by we have probably relied too heavily on one or two players, but this season I think it might be a little different.
‘‘Elliot Richardson won’t be playing this season, but hopefully Sirett might be able to fill that some of that void.’’
Key man: Hadliegh Sirett — The all-rounder is expected to turn the competition on its head following his return to the Eagles. Wright is expecting big things from the left-armer who is also quite handy with the bat.
Prediction: Fourth. The Eagles finished third last season and should be around the mark yet again. All you have to do is make finals and anything can happen from there on in. They will cause a fair few problems this season.
Coach: Glenn Hart.
Captain: Alec Young.
Last season: Seventh.
Ins: Tom Oliver and Eliot Callis.
Club comment — Glenn Hart:
‘‘We are pretty optimistic heading into the new season, we have brought in two new imports and we are hoping they can have a a big impact.
‘‘Tom and Eliot, who are both from England, will definitely add to the top-order, an area we struggled a lot in last season.
‘‘Our bowling attack is quite strong and that was evident last year, we just now need to focus on the ability to bat longer and spend more time at the crease because we know we can restrict sides.
‘‘We want to play finals and getting inside the top six is our priority and then from there you never know what can happen.’’
Key man: Kyle Mueller — The opener had a breakout season last year and had to do it all on his own for the most part. But now with Oliver and Callis joining the fray Mueller will be able to relax and knock back a few more runs.
Prediction: Seventh. The Redbacks will be thereabouts again, but their Haisman Shield hopes will rely heavily on how the two Englishmen adapt. We know Mueller can bat, Alec Young and Curtis Ryan are handy with the ball, so adding two more quality players will make a huge difference.
Co-captains: Paul Marshall and Jeremy Mullane.
Last season: Fifth.
Club comment — Paul Marshall: ‘‘It’s pretty exciting, training numbers have been really good, everyone’s been pretty involved as well.
‘‘The season’s come around pretty quickly, we seem a bit under-prepared, but we’ll be right to go this weekend.
‘‘Will Hale from last year is back again, but apart from that we’re going to bring some young guys through A-grade, we’ve got some existing guys playing through the grades who have gotten older and will get their chance.
‘‘It will be exciting too to have our first game under lights (tomorrow at Mooroopna Main Oval) with a good bunch of young fellas.’’
Key man: Paul Marshall — With young players rising up the ranks, the influence of co-captain Paul Marshall is more important than ever. Having coached the club last year, he will still play a large role at training without the official title. The reigning Lightfoot medallist will be keen to replicate last year’s numbers as he averaged 32.83 runs across the season, with the all-rounder also taking 35 scalps.
Prediction: Fifth. The defection of Andrew Cowen to Central Park-St Brendan’s will result in a loss of much needed experience, despite Cowan not producing one of his finest seasons last summer. With other clubs bringing in some stellar recruits, the Cats will be hoping a young ace bursts from their ranks to again help them into another semi-final.
Coach: Steve Allen.
Captain: Mitch Brett.
Last season: Ninth.
Ins: Grant Hutchins, Mark Nolan, Ryan Sidebottom, Jeremy Fraser.
Club comment — Steve Allen:
‘‘There’s a positive air around the place and I suppose good numbers which is important.
‘‘Grant Hutchins is returning from Nathalia and he was one of our previous A-grade players. I think he could see the club was looking to improve and better themselves and could see there’s a positive vibe around the place.
‘‘They’ve embraced that (professionalism) and they’ve embraced the return to draining and they’re doing what they’re doing with enthusiasm and doing it well.
‘‘Let’s hope we can improve our situation in terms of where we finished last season, there’s a feeling at the minute that numbers will be good with a few people returning to the club and some looking for clearances.’’
Key man: Steve Allen — For the first time in the Northerners’ history, the Jets have appointed a coach and no doubt Allen will have as much influence as any of those on the field. Increasing the professionalism of the club, he has upped training from once to twice a week and is set on seeing the Northerners into the finals series.
Prediction: Third. Northerners will achieve the rise they were hoping for as a side with plenty of talent should utilise it this season. Grant Hutchins and Mark Nolan will strengthen the bowling attack, with Nolan also adding depth to the batting order. The Jets are also hoping to secure a couple of appearances from County cricket player Ryan Sidebottom as he returns to Australia during the English off-season. However, Matt Rendina is a significant out as he takes the summer off to landscape his garden.
Coach: Shawn Boswell.
Captain: Liam Gledhill.
Last season: Eighth.
Ins: Shaun Downie, Dylan Grandell, Josh Smith, Matt Cline.
Club comment — Liam Gledhill:
‘‘It has been a big off-season for us and we’ve been training for probably two months so everyone has a really good base behind them.
‘‘But in the end match practice is what we’re after, so we’re really looking forward to this weekend.
‘‘ We knew we struggled in the top-order last season, so guys like Dylan Grandell and Shaun Downie (will be really important this year).
‘‘Matt Cline will be a big in for us, if we can get his body right we think he will make a dangerous opening (bowling) partnership with Tim Arnel.
‘‘A few of our older guys will probably drop back now and support B-grade, which the club is looking forward to as they won’t have to try and play up a grade.’’
Key man: Shaun Downie — The Cobram superstar is exactly what Numurkah needed to go out and recruit after multiple mediocre seasons. A seasoned veteran with bat and ball, Downie will help take pressure off Liam Gledhill.
Prediction: Second. The Blues have to be the pre-season favourites for the Haisman Shield after a stellar off-season at the recruiting table, but may take a few matches to really click as a unit.
Coach: Daniel Coombs.
Captain: Luke McPhillamy.
Last season: Premier.
Ins: Stuart Rigby.
Club comment — Luke McPhillamy:
‘‘We’ve lost a few players from last year, so we’ll look to bring up some young talent through the juniors.
‘‘We showed last year that it’s an open race after only winning one game the season before, so it’s a completely new season and we’ll have a fresh look.
‘‘Last year our big thing was to try and stay in games as long as we could, so we’ll try to stick to those principles again.
‘‘We have no expectations, we’re just looking to develop. It’s good to still have four teams across the grades after losing some players at the top.’’
Key man: Nick Breslin — After returning to the top of the order and leading the Students to the promised land last season with 158 runs across the first two matches of the finals series, Breslin will again be crucial to his side’s campaign. If he is in form with bat and ball, the Students will retain confidence in their ability to close out games.
Prediction: Sixth. The core of Old Students’ premiership side remains, but with Andrew Ireland, Tyson McKenzie, Riley Michel and Sam Allen all unlikely to make appearances this season it could be a tough ask for young players to step up and fill the holes.
Coach: Alan Tonks
Captain: Dwain Vidler.
Last season: Fourth.
Club comment — Dwain Vidler:
‘‘We lose two batsmen in Joshua Lawrence and Anthony Adronacco which will hurt a little, but it gives a chance for a few younger blokes to step up.
‘‘Angus Lake and Hugh Conway will have a bit more of an opportunity this season, while Daniel Burness can also bat a little.
‘‘Burness, who is also an off-spinner, will add a fair bit to our side with the ball, while we are expecting Damon Zampaglione to play a bigger role this season as well.
‘‘Rehan Bari, like every opening batsman, will be hoping to have a good season and we hope he does too.
‘‘Everyone plays sport to play finals, we have a few younger blokes in our side this season so we will just have to wait and see how we go.’’
Key man: Rehan Bari — In 14 matches last season Bari averaged 44.86 runs on his way to two tons and four 50s. The left-hander is explosive with the bat once he gets going and you feel United’s season may rest on how he performs.
Prediction: Eighth. United lose a fair bit of firepower this season and they have opted to replace it with youth, meaning a good start will be imperative. If United can get a role on, who knows what can happen, but their depth may tested in a time of need.
Coach: Tim Kelly.
Captain: Tim Kelly.
Last season: 10th.
Ins: Connor Hayes, Tom Casey, Hamish Roberts, Tom Dinnis.
Club comment — Tim Kelly:
‘‘The only way is up. We have a lot of improvement to do, but it’s exciting.
‘‘We all want success and we’re all prepared to work hard to get it.
‘‘There’s a lot more pressure on everyone to perform this year with more depth, and hopefully players will be pushing up through good form, not just unavailability or injuries.
‘‘It would be great to play finals and we’re definitely aiming to do that.
‘‘We were involved in a lot of close contests last year which we lost and this year we will be aiming to win those.
‘‘We learned a lot and now we have to execute in pressure situations.’’
Key man: Connor Hayes — After moving across from powerhouse Central Park-St Brendan’s, Hayes will relish the opportunity to develop his game with little internal pressure to perform. He will be planted near the top of the order and left to his own devices, and an impressive 91 in a practice match showed his potential. His left-arm finger spin will add another gear to Tatura’s bowling attack as well.
Prediction: Ninth. Tatura’s added depth and competition for spots will surely see it climb the table, but the height of that climb will depend on the performances of other mid-range teams. Connor Hayes and import Tom Dinnis will provide plenty of X-Factor and should see the club avoid a fifth consecutive wooden spoon.
HAISMAN SHIELD TIPS
Katandra v Northerners at Katandra, Central Park-St Brendan’s v Shepparton United at Deakin Reserve, Tatura v Numurkah at Howley Oval, Karramomus v Old Students at Vibert Reserve, Mooroopna v Kyabram at Mooroopna Main Oval.
Katandra, Shepparton United, Tatura, Karramomus, Kyabram.
Northerners, Central Park-St Brendan’s, Tatura, Old Students, Mooroopna.
Katandra, Central Park-St Brendan’s, Tatura, Old Students, Kyabram.
Northerners, Central Park-St Brendan’s, Numurkah, Karramomus, Kyabram.
Northerners, Central Park-St Brendan’s, Numurkah, Old Students, Mooroopna.
Michael Van Dorsser
Katandra, Shepparton United, Numurkah, Karramomus, Mooroopna.