There’s nothing like the expectations ahead of a new season and following on from two of the closest competitions on record, the upcoming 2018-19 Maitland first grade season is no exception.
If possible it could be even closer this year with several clubs losing established stars but welcoming an exciting crop of young players full-time into the senior ranks.
The addition of Port Stephens to first grade ranks adds an unknown quantity and the Pythons can expect no favours as teams look to secure top-four spots.
This year’s preview is ranked on position at the end of the regular season and weighted by the availability of players at the start of the season for regular power teams Northern Suburbs and Western Suburbs.
Last year: Fourth
Gains: Josh Trappel (Hamilton-Wickham)
Losses: Brad Bidner
The addition of former Hamwicks captain Josh Trappel to an already talented line-up has taken City United from probable semi-finalists to premiership favourites.
Competition for first grade spots is going to be red-hot and after a year to settle in to their new environs expect big things from Michael Heinrich, Ricky Dent and Tim Baker.
City skipper Matt Trappel was positive about making semi-finals and pushing for the title prior to his brother’s arrival, his addition has buoyed that further.
“Our bowling stocks are strong, but we were susceptible in our batting and Josh adds so much to that,” he said.
Teenagers Jock Vivers, Cameron Wynn and Sam Jordan and Ben Crebert are big parts of the club’s plans for 2018-19
Last year: Second
Losses: Will Fort
Northern Suburbs captain Michael Wilson knew from the first time Will Fort arrived at the club that the once in a generation player was inevitably going to leave to sooner than later to go on to bigger things.
It doesn’t lessen the loss of a quality player, but Wilson and Norths’ philosophy is mission accomplished and they will watch Fort’s progress in Sydney with excitement.
“There will always be opportunities for youngsters at Norths. It’s been the ethos of the club and as long as they are good enough they will get opportunities to play in the highest grade,” Wilson said.
Norths will again be well served by probably most talented group of teenagers in the competition led by Logan Smith, Rex Greaves and Ca Dos and Sam Parkinson.
They will be complemented by a core of experienced players including Wilson, Lincoln Mills, Mitch and Tim Field, Jordan Callinan, Cael Smith, Terry Humphreys and Ben Sayers.
Wilson is expecting a slow start with several first graders unavailable for the opening rounds, but they will be in the reckoning once again come finals.
Last year: Fifth
Gains: Isaac Barry, Beau Parnell
Losses: Tim Harding
Kurri Weston embark on new direction this season promoting younger players to first grade to complement a core group which fell agonisingly short of the semi-finals last year.
Singleton teenagers Issac Barry and Beau Parnell join the club to play alongside their Central North teammate Jack Sylvester who will open the attack with Alex Seamer, perhaps the move improved player in Maitland cricket over the past two seasons.
The bowling stocks will be boosted with Steve Abel available all season.
Warriors captain Justin Kavanagh says the club is settled after a disrupted start to last season.
“I think with a year under his belt Jack Sylvester will be an even more dangerous prospect and I’m really looking forward to having Isaac and Beau on board. They have really fitted in well.”
Last year: Premiers
Gains: Lee Osmond (Stockton), Dan Upwood
Losses: Aaron Bills, Shannon Bills, Jacob Page
There will be no resting on laurels for Raymond Terrace as they face a premiership defence without key players Aaron and Shannon Bills and one of the competition’s brightest young prospects Jacob Page.
All three are heading into the Newcastle competition with the Bills playing at Cardiff and Page joining Easts teenager Matt Lynch at Wallsend.
“The first few rounds are going to be testing to see how we settle after such a big turn around in players,” captain Steve Smith said.
John Halloran, who played a vital contribution to Raymond Terrace’s premiership with big runs in the finals, will not be available full-time. Smith expects star all-rounder Nick Savage to have recovered from a hand injury and be fit for round one.
The young reinforcements led by Page’s younger brother Lachie are coming but are still a year or two away in their first year of under-16s.
Last year: Seventh
Gains: Jackson Redmond (Supporters)
Losses: Andrew Vickery, Jayden Park, Matt Lynch
Eastern Suburbs joint captains Jack Bennett and Trent Park will be banking on the remaining core of seven first graders from last season and exciting juniors to lift the Griffins back up the ladder.
The loss of former skipper and club stalwart Andrew Vickery, Jayden Park who returns to Sydney grade cricket and teenage star Matt Lynch who is playing with Wallsend in Newcastle will be hard to counter particularly early in the season.
The bowling stocks remain strong, but batting will be the key concern for Easts after they blew several winning chances with batting collapses and Bennett will need to play a big role at the top of the order.
“Will Stoneman, Sean Gibson, Lachie Ballard and Lachie Whishard are likely to get plenty of opportunities and then you've got those core guys from last year,” Bennett said.
“We're pretty confident of top four. It's such an even competition, talking to Trent about it we both think a good month of cricket can get you the semis.”
Easts will be in the running for a top four spot.
However, they may have to bide their time this season as their young players develop.
Last year: Third
Beaten semi-finalists last season to eventual premiers Raymond Terrace, an unchanged Thornton are poised to go a step further this year.
Thornton were the form side for the second half of the 2017-18 climbing from last to first on the back of six wins from their final eight games.
Poor starts to the year are their biggest worry, with the Twenty20 competition kick-starting their season over the past two years.
Skipper Jake Moore is only half-joking when he says the first thing he does when the draw comes out is check when the T20 comp starts.
“We need to get off to a better start this year as our form in the second half was great,” he said.
The core of this still largely young team has been together for three to four seasons after many come through the junior ranks together and are led very well by Moore, who at 23, still has his best years of cricket ahead of him.
He is in a similar age bracket with Jamie Krake and Elliott Thompson who had strong seasons last year. There are plenty of bowling options with spinner Dan Willis having an outstanding season scoring plenty of run and in a model of consistency took at least one wicket in every match.
“Pommy (Peter Gabriell) has carried the side with his batting, but there’s a few of us are ready to step up and support him,” Moore said.
Last year: Sixth
Losses: Aaron Mahony, Luke Merchan
If City United have gained the most from a single signing, then Western Suburbs have lost the most with a single departure.
The Plovers star batsman Aaron Mahony is staying in England for another year after playing cricket in the Kent League.
Mahony scored 535 runs at an average of 76 last season including two centuries. To compound their problems they will also miss the all-round talents of Luke Merchant.
Wests will require an all-round lift and outstanding seasons from co-captains Tom Irwin and Mitch Fisher to stand any chance of making the semi-finals.
“A lot of young guys are going to get a chance. Everyone is training hard and very keen, fingers crossed we might be able to surprise a few people because a lot of people are righting us of,” Irwin said.
Port Stephens have been the dominant team in the A-grade one-day competition for the past decade and make their debut in Maitland first grade cricket this season.
Port’s biggest challenge is how they will make the transition to the two-day game. Batting should not be a problem with Josh and Jared Moxy and Josh Dall all prolific run scorers.
Bowling across the extended format will test the attack, but with half the fixtures one-day games they should be right at home and cause a few upsets along the way.
They open their campaign at home against Norths.