WITH the restructuring of cricket in Durham over the last 12 months, the two Northumberland Leagues haven’t been immune from the changes, despite opting to stay outside the new pyramid for the time being.
The top flight of the Northumberland and Tyneside Senior League has a slightly different look to that envisaged last September.
With Sacriston having moved to pastures new, a close-season request from both Morpeth and Chopwell to relinquish their A1 status because of player quality and availability issues was looked on sympathetically by the League, something that handed a relegation reprieve to Leadgate and a promotion bonus to Ponteland.
Northumberland League champions Alnmouth & Lesbury, who broke several records in 2012 despite the weather, have made the step up to NTSL A2 and play their first game today at Alnwick.
At the top of the ladder, Swalwell’s six-year dominance of the NTSL could be under real threat this summer.
Almost certainly heading the chasing pack once more will be Shotley Bridge. Skippered by Peter Collingwood, the intriguing element to their team plans is the registration of Peter’s brother Paul as the club’s professional.
But Bridge are realistic about any appearances he might make, with Peter saying: “We’re not expecting to see him much, but if we do it’ll be great.”
The club have three other new signings, batsman Paul Greenwell from Leadgate, all-rounder Graham Brinton from Lanchester and leg-spinner Phil Mellons from Consett, and with Stuart Graham playing on as an amateur they are sure to be a force to be reckoned with.
Annfield Plain are another club to have strengthened their playing reserves. Neil Killeen skippers the side, and welcomes youngsters Kieran Gohery and Greg Patterson into a dressing room which still includes Melvyn Betts and Michael Allen. With Jonny Killeen fully fit, and playing when available, Plain are likely to prove tough opponents for anyone.
So too Tynedale. Durham’s Mark Wood is the professional, and joining him up at Hexham are former Morpeth duo Ben Maxted and Jack Palmer, along with Connor Fellowes (Greenside) and Glenn Caygill (Chopwell). Last season’s North East player of the year, Tom Cant, is captain.
Lanchester’s challenge will again be led by Stuart McPhail, who will be hoping for great things from Tasmanian Michael Lukic.
Swalwell’s attempts to make it seven consecutive titles won’t be harmed by the arrivals of all-rounder Stephen Smith from Chopwell, and former Newcastle and Percy Main opening bowler Guy Saxton, although Gary Johnson has returned to home club Lintz and Craig Moffat has moved out of the area.
The three newcomers to A1 are all eyeing the same goal – consolidation. Ryton have a seam bowling all-rounder, Kiwi Roald Badenhorst, on board as pro, and have kept the promotion-winning team intact save for skipper David Bailey, whose work commitments have impinged on his availability. Andy Sutton picks up the reins.
Consett have signed David Anderson and Daniel Stewart, and with Gareth Breese still on board they hope to be able to hold their own in their first A1 season for several years. Ponteland will feature an 18-year-old Aussie among a clutch of new faces, batsman Anthony Quarrell joining Liam Cosgrove, Nick Brown, Matthew Hynd, John Callaghan and Paul Elliott.
Elsewhere, Leadgate hope for better luck with the weather this time around, a sentiment no doubt echoed by import Luke Fitzner from Adelaide. Lintz are delighted to have Gary Johnson back in the fold and expect to see much more of fit-again Gary Christie.
Local rivals Burnopfield are looking for great things from paceman Mark Nunn, and Percy Main will be led by Barry Stewart, with new signings Jack Vickerman and Andy Green at his disposal.
With Alnmouth having moved onwards and upwards, there is a chance for others to shine in the Northumberland League, and Blagdon Park will be hoping they can go one better than last year’s runners-up position, although the loss of Russell Hughes, and the potential unavailability of students Ali Clarke and David Gibson, will mean they will have to work hard for any success. Newcomers include 17-year-old Tom Lakey from Alnwick, and all-rounder Rory Drainer has joined from Benwell Hill.
The main threat to everyone would seem to be posed by Bedlington. Skippered by Darren Leason, the arrival of the league’s young player of the year, Chris Younger, and his older brother Dan, both from Warkworth, will give the Terriers plenty of bite. Warkworth’s strength is further diminished by the retirement of Stevie Lee.
Blyth have new signing Chris Harwood to play alongside the returning Craig Smith, who is back after two years out. Clara Vale and Berwick are same again with no ins and outs.
Kirkley skipper Mick Nicholson describes their one new player as a high-class wicketkeeper and volcanic batsman, Andy ‘Beefy’ Storey having been lured from Blue Flames, although with a lot of new players the Flames are still expected to be competitive.
Elsewhere, Steve Black will be a miss for Bates Cottages, who have no new players as yet; Rob Clark makes a comeback to Ashington RCC after a season at Monkseaton; Tillside parade two new faces – Sunny Fizal and Rob Grindle – while Alex Brown again skippers Stocksfield, but will have to reckon without Gareth Wade, who has gone to try his luck in the NEPL.