There is a buzz at Coronation Oval as the Western Suburbs Plovers prepare for Saturday's opening game of the first grade cricket season against Thornton Park.
New joint captains Tom Irwin and Mitch Fisher said the disappointment of finishing with the 2016-17 wooden spoon had stung the proud club and everyone was keen to make amends.
Irwin didn’t play last year due to work commitments interstate, but 21-year-old Fisher had an outstanding season finishing with 24 wickets including a best performance of 7/56 against Kurri Weston.
Fisher said he was looking forward to the challenge of sharing the captaincy with Irwin and that it was a model that he believed would work well.
“We’re grate mates and have been teammates for a number of years now. I think having Tom back at the club is an immediate boost to our chances this season,” he said.
“The boys have been in training for six weeks now and everyone is really putting in. There’s real competition for positions, everyone in the first grade team knows they have to perform to keep their spot.”
The changes have already begun in the make-up of the team with batsman Mark Copus making his first grade debut on Saturday.
One of the most consistent performers for the Plovers over the past few years, the popular Copus averaged 50 last season in second grade and give his captains added variety in attack bowling left-hand leg-spin.
“It’s taken a while to break into first grade. I probably had my best season last year in terms of consistency,” 25-year-old Copus said.
“You really have to earn your spot in our batting line-up so it’s good to get the call up.”
Irwin said Copus had been training the house down over pre-season and there was no hesitation in rewarding him with the first grade debut.
“Mark’s been knocking on the door of first grade for the past couple of year, particularly last year,” he said.
Irwin said he was excited about his return to Maitland cricket and believed Wests would be back in the thick of finals action again.
“We were premiers a season ago and have the core of that team still in place,” he said.
“Blokes like Mark have pushed their way into the side through hard work.
“We have younger players like Shannon Threlfo who will certainly be playing first grade this season as well.”
Blake Walmsley is the major loss from West’s 2016-17 line-up and he returns to Coronation Oval on Saturday with his new team Thornton.
Thornton showed plenty of positive signs at the end of last season, with wins against Western Suburbs, Kurri Weston and Raymond Terrace as well as draws with Norths and Easts.
Thornton skipper Jake Moore said the team’s confidence rose after narrowly losing the final of the Hunter Valley Cup Twenty20 tournament against Kurri Weston.
“The wins in the Twenty20 really got us believing. We’re a young side and a lot of us hadn’t had that many wins up until then,” he said.
“We picked up that winning feeling and belief in ourselves as a team. We have that experience now to draw on.”