A new team, returning stars, a new crop of exciting youngsters developing and even some highly-credentialled UK imports has led to plenty of excitement surrounding the 2019-20 Maitland first grade cricket season.
Tenambit-Morpeth replaces Port Stephens in the top grade and another highly competitive season is promised with the only certainty that City United start as favourites to win the club's first back-to-back premierships.
Western Suburbs and Eastern Suburbs have both recruited English players but the biggest news on the playing front is that one local star is staying and another is returning to play in Maitland.
City United star Josh Trappell will remain at Robins Oval this season and Wests star batsman Aaron Mahony is back in the Plovers line-up after a year in the UK.
City have one spot in the top four pegged, but there's a good case for each of the other seven teams to make the semi-finals.
Last year: Premiers
Gains: Andrew Vickery (Eastern Suburbs); Todd Francis (Armidale); Wayne Dunlop (Dubbo)
Losses: Michael Heinrich (retired); Ben Davies.
WELCOME BACK: Western Suburbs star batsman Aaron Mahony returns to Maitland first grade cricket after a year playing in the UK.
Everyone was expecting big things from City United last season with the return of Josh Trappel to play with his brother and skipper Matt.
The expectations came to fruition in the grand final when the brothers combined for a 300-plus partnership to trounce Western Suburbs after being in early trouble in the decider.
They will be joined by great mate and former Easts skipper Andrew Vickery, who returns to cricket fresh from a year off to further bolster City's credentials.
All-rounder Michael Heinrich has retired and pacemen Ben Davies is not playing this year but City has recruited well picking up Dubbo's leading run-scorer Wayney Dunlop and spinning all-rounder Todd Francis, from Armidale.
Tim Burton and Tim Baker will lead the pace attack with talented teenagers Jordan Murphy and Cam Wynn to push for Davies' spot.
Last year: Seventh
Gains: Toby Godfrey (UK)
Losses: Lucas Sargent (Stockton); Brendan Allen (Melbourne); Sean Gibbs (Norths)
Eastern Suburbs skipper Jack Bennett says he has never been so keen to start a cricket season as the Griffins prepare to break back into the top four on the back of a strong finish to last season.
UK batsman Toby Godfrey is the key addition to the squad with Easts banking on improvement in their young squad to cover for the losses of Brendan Allen, who is moving to Melbourne, and Lucas Sargent who returns to play with Stockton.
"As big a losses at those two are we seem to have covered fairly well. Toby (Godfrey) will bat at No3, where Brendan played, Jack Stoneman (all-rounder) and Daniel (all-rounder) will be playing bigger roles this year and their younger brother Will is as keen as mustard and will be opening," Bennett said.
"Lucas' brother Cal is coming up and he bowls left-arm pace as well. He got the most wickets in second grade last year,
"Nick Rinkin will lead the attack, Trent Park is going to bat four and myself at fifth with Josh Hicks next. It's a really balanced team. I haven't been this keen for a cricket season ever."
This year: Fifth
Gains: Jake Gordon
Losses: Isaac Barry, Daniel Foster, Simon Marshall
Last year: Second
Of all the teams in the Maitland competition, the difference between Kurri Weston's best and worst is the most significant.
The Warriors' batting can be devastating, but it is also subject to major collapses and costly losses. Lachy Vasella moves up from second grade in a bid to shore up the top-order and he will be joined by the return of Jake Gordon whose last innings for the Warriors was a century in a semi-final against Wests.
However, with the loss of young opening bowler and batsmen Isaac Barry, Daniel Foster and Simon Marshall, both Vasella and Gordon will need to make immediate impacts.
Barry is a big loss in the attack, but Wests do have quality bowlers in Alex Seamer and Steve Abel and will be looking for a big year from young paceman Jack Sylvester who will be freed of restrictions as an under-16 in the number of overs he can bowl.
Kurri Weston have a tough start with Kurri Central not available to play on until round five. If they can split their results in the opening month they should play finals.
Gains: Mitch Saxby, Callum Gabriel, Sean Gibson
Losses: Ben Sayers, Tim Field, Rex Greaves
Northern Suburbs have bolstered their batting but go into 2019-20 without their front-line fast bowling attack.
If any club in the competition can cover for the loss it is Norths and new captain Lincoln Mills is confident of an improved season this year.
"Rex Greaves has moved to Sydney and Ben Sayers and Tim Field are both not playing this season so we've lost more or less our bowling attack, but we've picked up some handy replacements," Mills said.
Gabriel returns to Lorn Park from last summer with the Newcastle Jets and will open the bowling.
"We've got some really good young players coming through. Denzel O'Brien is a 15-year-old who has been doing some really good things in the pre-season.
"We've always been fortunate with our fast bowling stocks. Last year we took a bit of a hit with our batting stocks and we had to blood a number of younger players.
"We expect big things from Ben and Matt Sugden with that year under their belts."
Mills will concentrate on club cricket and after his best season with the bat will open the batting again with Mitch Nolan who cemented a spot at the top of the order last year.
Mitch Saxby will be first drop and Mills expects bumper years from Logan Smith and Mike Wilson in the middle order.
Gains: Sidney Searle
Losses: Nick Savage, Daniel Upward (injured), Will Maher (injury)
Last year: Sixth
Raymond Terrace go into 2019-20 without star all-rounder Daniel Upward and Will Maher through injury.
"It hurts but you can't help players getting injured. We are just hoping that Daniel and Will might be able to play at some stage," Terrace skipper Steve Smith said.
The Lions have some exciting young talent coming through with former Norths left-arm quick Sidney Searle joining the club this year and Lachy Page expected to get more games in first grade.
"He played a couple of games last year. This year he is bowling a bit quicker and hopefully they can score some runs."
Raymond Terrace play Thornton first up and will get a good idea of how they are travelling.
After five years break, the Tenambit Morpepth Bulls return to first grade cricket in 2019-20.
The club missed a place last year to Port Stephens, but the committee's hard work has paid off and they are not only back in first grade this year but have a record seven senior teams.
The basis for the first grade team will be last year's major-minor premiership winning second grade team with the addition of key experienced trio Daniel Collinson (Tamworth), Andrew Bashford (Dungog) and David Hancock (Newcastle District).
"There are blokes who have played a lot of first grade cricket over the years and there will be a fair few debutants as well, young blokes around 17 and 18 who will be coming through," skipper Shane Wind said.
The club is aiming for a top four finish but will need everything to go their way and their young talent to blossom early.
Gains: MItchell Cox
Losses: Blake Walmsley, Chris Archer.
Thornton's season was cruelled in the final weeks by rain. Their final regular season game was washed out leaving them tied for third spot.
Then to rub salt into their wounds, their semi-final against Kurri Weston was washed out and they missed out on a spot in the grand final as the lower placed team.
Skipper Jake Moore and his teammates are back more determined than ever and hoping to reap the rewards of another season together.
No team get more out of themselves than Thornton and while Blake Walmsely and Chris Archer are significant losses, this is a team not reliant on any individual star.
They have come up together through some tough times and are primed to reap the rewards.
Gains: Aaron Mahony (back from UK); Elliott Lewis (UK), Shaun Hill (Central Coast)
Last year: Fifth
Outside of premiers City, Western Suburbs have been the most active established team on the recruiting front adding Englishman Elliott Lewis and Shaun Hill from the Central Coast to their line-up for 2019-20.
But the most significant boost will be the return of star batsman Aaron Mahony from the UK.
"Getting Aaron back is massive as runs were probably our issue last year and he will bolster that massively," Wests skipper Tom Irwin said.
The downside for Wests is that they will be without star all-rounder Mitchell Fisher until after Christmas.
"When Fish gets back we're confident we will have a pretty decent squad to push City," he said.
Lewis and Hill could provide the Plovers with the X-factor they need to return to finals action.
Lewis will open the bowling and bat at No.5, while Hill will bat at four and bowls leg spin.
The Plovers can set up their season early with wins in the opening three games against 2018-19 finalists Kurri Weston, City and Northern Suburbs.
"It's a good test early. Our big goal is that we want to win every single game at home," Irwin said.