There will be a different feel to Murray Valley Cricket Association’s premier division competition this season.
Although with Waaia departing the association for Cricket Shepparton — and Finley dropping down a level after losing a number of top-line players — there will be a large amount of stars no longer competing, the rise of Tocumwal to the highest ranks should provide some new faces and a different dynamic for the year ahead.
The Bloods will kick off their new campaign against Katamatite tomorrow, while defending champion Barooga tackles perennial premier Nathalia.
Cobram and Deniliquin also face-off, with Cobram-Yarroweyah United needing to wait another weekend before beginning its season after drawing the bye first-up.
McPherson Media Group journalists Tyler Maher, Patrick Tansey, Fraser Walker-Pearce and James Bennett take a look at each team in the lead up to the season.
New captain, new coach, new star players — but the same title-winning Barooga team.
Last year’s Murray Valley Cricket Association premier division winner is raring to go, keen to defend the local crown.
And losing the man who lifted last season’s cup as captain, Shane Healey, to a Geelong club is just a speed bump, said Barooga’s president.
The club will again place a focus on its junior development and, in the process, has named two youngsters as its key players for completing the double this season.
One of those players had a huge hand in securing last season’s title against Deniliquin Rhinos, smashing 116 not out in the final.
In losing its 2017 captain, the club has gained three players.
One is a returning player from another club, the second has a wealth of experience in country leagues, while the third is a gun prospect from the area.
And with the departure of the captain came the announcement Matthew Dimble would lead the line this season.
Mick Butler is to be the manager and coach.
Club president Wes Sutton said things were looking up for the club ahead of the opening round match away against Nathalia.
‘‘We’re aiming to be strong again, basically we want to defend our title,’’ Sutton said.
‘‘In the off-season we lost some important players — our captain from last year Shane has gone to Geelong and we’ve lost Riyaad Henry, an import from overseas, to another club.
‘‘They’re our two big losses.’’
Sutton said Barooga had all the tools to go back-to-back; only time would tell if it could pull it off.
‘‘We had a huge highlight in the last season with young Riley Gow scoring 116 in the final,’’ he said.
‘‘We have three new recruits this year as well; Trent Batchelor (from Geelong), Jordy Anthony (from Jerilderie), and Matthew Jench (from Albury).’’
The prize of those pick ups is Jench, formerly of Belvoir Cricket Club in Albury, and Sutton said he would play a starring role this season as a fast-bowling all-rounder.
Batchelor has played at many country league clubs and was most recently plying his trade in Geelong; Anthony last season played for Jerilderie’s B-grade, but is keen to try his hand in the premier grade.
‘‘He’s only 17 or 18 and wanted to have a crack at premier cricket, but he looks exciting,’’ Sutton said.
Cobram Cricket Club is looking to usurp rival Barooga from the throne this season.
It will this weekend begin its quest against last year’s grand finalist Deniliquin.
The Tigers are under new leadership this season, with all-rounder Adam De Cicco stepping up to the role of captain, while James Daniel will be his deputy.
Cobram president Paul Hyde said De Cicco was an obvious candidate for the job and had settled in to the important position well.
‘‘He’s looking really good at the moment,’’ he said.
‘‘I believe he’s a natural born leader and I’m expecting him to do really well in the role.’’
From last season, the Tigers have lost key batsman Ash Saunders, who has retired due to work commitments, and tweaker Nic Hoban.
It is still up in the air whether all-rounder Tyron Baden pulls on the whites again.
‘‘He trained last week, but you just don’t know with him,’’ Hyde said.
‘‘He says he’s retired and not going to play, but that remains to be seen.’’
The Tigers will have a strong South African flavour this year.
Recruits Wian Van Zyl and Ewald Roberts flew in from Johannesburg last week just in time for round one.
Hyde said both players were targeted to address specific needs in the Tigers’ line-up.
‘‘They both played in England last year and are both all-rounders, they’re both young blokes,’’ he said.
‘‘They’re both 21 and pretty capable batsmen and reasonable with the ball.
‘‘One is a medium pacer and the other is a spinner.’’
Looking at the rest of the competition, Hyde expected his boys to be around the same mark again this year; they finished fourth last season. They consider last year’s premier and cross-river rival Barooga to be the team to beat again.
‘‘They (Barooga) will shape up fairly well again, but I think we will be thereabouts as well,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ve got some good young cricketers in Izac Artavilla and Lachlan Hyde and guys like that and a few up-and-comers.
‘‘We will promote the kids because they’re obviously our future.’’
The combine will not start its campaign until next weekend, but will have to do so without at least one star player.
Kane Goldsworthy — who took 62 premier division wickets for United during the past two seasons and hit 319 runs last summer — will play with Bendigo Cricket Club this year.
The all-rounder will be a huge loss for a side which won just two matches last season, but others will have to stand up in his place.
John Arthur will once again take the reins as coach at Deniliquin and the Rhinos will be looking to go one better than last year’s runner-up finish to Barooga.
Import Zeniffe Fowler will not be returning, while gloveman Jonty Tubb will be kept off of the field due to a knee injury which required surgery, but Brodie Bennett is back in the fold.
Last time Bennett lined up for the Rhinos (in the 2016-17 season) he claimed 28 wickets at an average of 10.61.
The Tigers will look to improve on a three-win season last summer in order to stake a claim for finals action this campaign.
Among the recruits for Katamatite is another in a long line of Chessington Cricket Club imports.
Colin Watson will follow in the footsteps of the likes of Luke Barnard, Chris Norton and Daniel Yarnley in playing for the Tigers, and boasts a career best batting of 135 not out and a best bowling figures of 6-6 for Chessington.
The Purples are not used to watching on when it comes to the final day of the season.
Nathalia failed to make the grand final last summer after losing a semi-final clash to Deniliquin and the club will be keen to return to the top of the mountain this season.
One confirmed exit from the ranks is Liam Evans, who has joined Bendigo Cricket Club, but if there is one thing the Purples have in spades it is depth after dominating in division two and three for a number of years.
Tocumwal will enter the premier division with new faces marking a new era for the club.
It will be the first time since the 2013-14 season that Tocumwal has competed in premier division.
Boosting its line-up will be former Finley cricket captain Chris Shaw — who has been named captain — plus young gun Matt Wilson and veteran batter Daniel Hibberd from Finley.
Club president Rod Meloury confirmed the premier team would include two English imports with the possibility of a third.
Meloury said the club was excited to be joining the premier division for the first time in five years.
‘‘I think we’ll give the competition a good shake,’’ Meloury said.
‘‘It’s a foundation season, but I reckon we can grow on it as well with our juniors who are coming through.
‘‘Joining premier division will provide the perfect opportunity to those players in their mid-20s to see where they’re at.
‘‘It’s hard to say who will be the best teams as we didn’t play in this division last year, but probably the tough sides to beat will be Cobram, Barooga, Nathalia and Deni.’’
The side is also expected to include players from last season Jesse Barker, Andy Arthur and Michael Roberts.
Shaw said he chose to join Tocumwal because of the junior program and was looking forward to playing with the younger players coming through.
‘‘It’s an exciting time and a new challenge, but Tocumwal are a great group of lads and I’m thankful for the opportunity to captain the club,’’ Shaw said.
‘‘I’m happy to be working with their young players coming out of their program such as Jesse Barker and they’ve done a lot of work over the past four years working on that side of the club.
‘‘The aim is to play finals; we’re here to have a crack.
‘‘We have had a really good pre-season, so hopefully we can carry that into this first week.’’
Kicking off week one will be a trip to Katamatite tomorrow, which finished the 2017-18 season with four wins, two draws and eight losses.
Shaw said he’s unsure how his young side would perform tomorrow, but was confident it would be competitive.
‘‘We need to get the basics right and implement what we’ve been doing at training,’’ he said.
‘‘It’ll be an experience for the lads as quite a few haven’t played premier division, so that will be both a big and exciting challenge.
‘‘These first few weeks will be about accepting the challenge and enjoying it.
‘‘It might just be a matter of trying to establish where were are and just playing as a team, but my aim is for us to play finals.’’
Coach Ranji Oliver said batting would be the key to beating Katamatite.
‘‘They’re a good batting side and had a good start to the season last year, but fell away late,’’ he said.
‘‘In my opinion our team can bowl okay, it’ll just be matter of whether the batsmen can do the job.’’