FINALLY a new season of Shoalhaven cricket is upon us.
Traditionally, the cricketing gods never seem to be smiling at the beginning of the season, as wash outs and rain delays have become part and parcel of the opening round.
But fingers crossed the sun is shining on Saturday for the first ball of what should be a very exciting season.
Shoalhaven Ex-Servicemen will meet Ulladulla United in the first game on the new surface at Ulladulla Sports Park as they look to get their premiership defence under way.
Bomaderry play host to Berry-Shoalhaven Heads and both clubs have been widely tipped by their opponents to be title contenders, so they will be out to prove a point early.
Nowra will be hoping to put their off-field dramas of last season behind them when they host North Nowra-Cambewarra at Nowra Showground and of course there has been plenty of talk about competition newcomers Batemans Bay.
Batemans Bay enter the competition as an enigma, with their rival captains admitting they know very little, if anything about what to expect from them.
Bay and Basin will get the first look at them when they take a trip down to play on their home turf at Hanging Rock.
Bomaderry v Berry-Shoalhaven Heads
Saturday, Bomaderry Oval
BOTH teams were right up there last season and will be hoping to set the standard with a win in the opening round.
Jordan Matthews steps in for his first game as captain of Bomaderry and the 19-year-old said he is very excited by the challenge.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there and having a few wins,” Matthews said.
“We have a very different side to Bomaderry of the past, but in saying that, it’s still going to be a strong side,” he added.
Matthews views Berry as one of the teams to beat this year and expects it to be a tough contest as usual.
“Kerry Penfold is definitely the danger man with the bat and their bowling is a little bit underrated.
“I think they’ve still got Ty Cherry and then there’s Glenn Brandon, so they have a very strong attack.”
One area where Matthews knows they will have to improve from last season is their batting and he said they have been working very hard.
“We struggled a bit with our batting last season and it definitely let us down in a few games.
“Knowing Bomaderry Oval, it should be a good deck and we would like to get some runs on the board.
“Anything 200 plus should be a good total and that will make it easier to restrict them and bowl them out.”
Berry-Shoalhaven Heads skipper Kerry Penfold admitted his side is going in a little under-prepared, due to a late start because of the footy season, but are otherwise looking forward to playing again.
“There’s been no warm up games or anything, we’re straight into it,” Penfold said.
“We’re going to have a lot of kids who will get thrown in into it and have to learn pretty quickly.
“It’s going to be a tough start to the season with Bomaderry and Nowra first up.”
Penfold said he doesn’t know a lot about who Bomaderry will have in their side, but based on previous seasons, he knows they are a team to look out for.
“Jordan Matthews will be trying to lead from the front and I’ve got to do the same.
“We’re definitely keeping an eye out for him.”
Penfold said he has plenty of confidence in his side and while he would love to start the season off on a positive note, he said he is not too concerned about the result.
“In the first few weeks we just want to work out where we are in the pecking order.
“It should be a good, solid hit out to start the year, but we’re not too worried about the result.
“We’ve just got to be competitive.”
Ulladulla United v Shoalhaven Ex-Servicemen
Saturday, Ulladulla Sports Park
AS the old saying goes, to be the best, you have to beat the best and that is exactly what Ulladulla United will be trying to do on Saturday.
They are hosting defending premiers Shoalhaven Ex-Servicemen at the Ulladulla Sports Park and are keen to set the precedent for the season with a win first up.
One person who is very keen to prove himself is Ulladulla’s new captain Aaron Wester, who is taking over the reins from Mark Jackson.
“They’re a team you always want to beat,” Wester said.
“As they say, to be the best you’ve got to beat the best.
“Obviously we go in as the underdog, but we really want to get in there and have a good go, because we don’t like losing to them.”
Wester has high hopes for the season after they narrowly missed out on the semis last season and he said it’s important to start with a win.
How are they going to do that?
“I guess bowl them out for as little as possible and then try to knock them off, he laughed.”
Ex-Servos skipper Daniel Gleeson said it is always difficult to know what to expect in the first round and views Ulladulla at home as a bit of a danger game.
“They’re always competitive that’s for sure,” Gleeson said.
“It can be a bit of an unknown playing them down there in the first round.
“They beat us down there last season and that nearly cost us a place in the semis, so it’s important not to get on the back foot early on.”
Gleeson admitted they are going in to Saturday’s game a little bit under strength and said he is looking to some experienced campaigners to step up.
“Myself, Chris Bramley and Shane Halliday need some runs at the top of the order,” he said.
“We’ve got to put a decent total on the board and give our bowlers something to work with.
“We lost early wickets too often last season and had to recover, so that’s something that needs to change.
“If we can get a win, I’ll be extremely happy, but getting off to a good start is imperative.”
Batemans Bay v Bay and Basin
Saturday, Hanging Rock
BATEMANS Bay have bid farewell to the Eurobodalla competition and are keen and raring to in their first hit out in the Shoalhaven association.
While it was a tough decision to leave Eurobodalla, their skipper Andrew Malcolm said they had seen the writing on the wall for a few years and hopes the move is a positive step forward.
“We know it’s going to be a big step up from the Eurobodalla comp, but we’re really looking forward to it and we’re pretty optimistic,” he said.
“I’m not really sure what we’re up against but we see it as a really positive move and the response has been really positive from the other clubs,” he added.
Just as most teams are unsure of what to expect from the newcomers, Malcolm admitted they also know very little about their opponents Bay and Basin.
“I know they were towards the bottom last year, but I don’t even know if that’s any indication.
“We’ve just got to give it our best and we’ll have a good indication of where we’re at after the first few weeks.”
Basin skipper Jonathan Hill said his side is very excited, but uncertain at the prospect of taking on Batemans Bay in their first game in the Shoalhaven.
“I’ll be honest, I know nothing about Batemans Bay cricket, so we’ll be thinking on our feet a little bit,” he said.
“But it’s looking like we’ve got a pretty balanced side, with a good mix of older fellers and younger guys.
“The ideal situation would be to bat first, get some runs on the board and then have a crack at them in the afternoon and get them two down.”
Nowra v North Nowra-Cambewarra
Saturday, Nowra Showground
NOWRA are probably as keen as anyone to get back out on the field for their first game of the season.
The club was embroiled by off-field controversy last season and their new skipper Rohan Hutchison said they need to put it behind them and move on.
“Whatever happened has happened and we’ve got to move on and get better,” Hutchison said.
“All the boys have been training pretty hard and we’re really hoping to get to the finals.
“With the side we’ve got, we have to be competitive, we have no choice.”
Nowra will have a slightly different looking side after losing Matt Junk to Mosman and Jack Watts, who is playing rugby in England, but Hutchison is pretty confident with the team he has.
He said he is not too sure what to expect from their opponents North Nowra-Cambewarra, but is expecting a hard game.
“I know we’ve got a good side, they’ve just got to back their own ability.
“If we go out there and play to our potential, I’ll be happy.”
Norths have had a few issues with injuries and unavailability, but they have managed to get a team together for the first round.
New skipper Graham Davidson said they will be without Shane Bell, who has just had knee surgery, as well as Lachlan Lamont, Dean Tyson and himself who are under an injury cloud.
Looking at the Nowra side on paper, Davidson said he is expecting a tough game.
“They’ve got a few guys coming back from suspension and I think they’ll be pretty keen to prove a point,” he said.
“It’s always a bit scratchy at the start of the season, but we’ve just got to get out there and get a reasonable performance under our belt and try to build on our season as we go.”