JOHN Graham begins his tenth year as captain of South Northumberland with his ambition undiminished despite a decade of unprecedented success.
With an eye-watering seven championships under his belt already, the primary target is to make it number eight this summer – and with a powerful squad at his disposal again he has all the ammunition in place for another tilt at the title.
Durham Academy youngsters Joe Coyne and Paul Coughlin have hitched their considerable talents to the Bulls’ bandwagon and even though big-hitting batsman Chris Hewison has taken the professional’s job at Swalwell there remains plenty of quality to call upon.
Blaydon spent much of last season challenging the ‘big two’s’ supremacy, only slipping out of contention in the closing weeks to finish third.
They feel confident about being in the thick of things again and, with Durham player Ben Raine likely to feature on a regular basis and Kiwi all-rounder Cole McConchie boosting their ranks, they have cause for optimism,.
However, the initial unavailability of promising leg spinner Chris Varley, who is sidelined for two months with a fractured elbow, is an unwelcome blow.
Benwell Hill have enjoyed top-four finishes in each of the last three years.
They managed this without a regular Durham player, but the arrival of Rami Singh should plug that gap – although the departures of Mark Dale and Dave Rutherford and the potential loss of Jack Clark to the Academy, means their resources will be stretched with the accent placed on youth.
However, the outstanding Zohaib Khan is back for his fourth season at Denton Bank and he has brought along his brother this time with Shoaib Khan signing for Gateshead Fell.
They endured a torrid 2011, but Khan’s credentials are good – more than 6,000 first-class runs at an average of 37 – so they hope for better things.
The overseas interest at Tynemouth comes in the shape of South African Patrick Botha, the 22 year-old already basking in a successful start to his first-class career back home. Ben Debnam is the new captain.
Michael Richardson is now classed as Newcastle’s overseas player, so they are considering additional Durham options.
New signings Callum Harding and Joe Reynolds strengthen a squad which should also enjoy the all-season availability of Richard Stanyon.
Chester-le-Street are t probably still hurting at having the title wrenched from their grasp on the final day of the 2011 season.
The departures of Richard Waite and Ian Hunter will not help and Gary Scott is sidelined for six weeks following a shoulder operation.
South Shields await the arrival of Indian spinner Swarupam Purkayastha, Sunderland are strengthened by the acquisition of Mark Dale and the return of Michael Robson after two years at Nottinghamshire.
Hetton Lyons have a new opening bowler in the promising Anthony Watson (Seaham Harbour), and Stockton could spring surprises with Richard Waite back home and Jamie Harrison and Keaton Jennings on board.