Champions Hanging Heaton host 2017 runners-up Woodlands in a blue-riband opener as the Tewits, fresh from their overdue league success, aim for another vintage year after their memorable three-trophy campaign of last term which saw them win the title, T20 Cup and Yorkshire Premier League play-offs. They start off as favourites in their quest to retain league silverware, but the likes of Woodlands, Pudsey St Lawrence, Farsley and New Farnley will be hoping to have something to say about that.
Heaton captain Gary Fellows told the YEP: “You are kind of putting yourself in the light when you win the league and the trophies we did last year.
“But everybody starts on zero this year and we have a tough game against a tough Woodlands team with experienced players, first up. With Bricey (Chris Brice), Kez (Ahmed), and Mark Lawson, whether he bowls spin or not, you have three top-quality league spinners there, no doubt about it.
“We will set ourselves up to be the team to beat, like last year. But I am sure that there will be four or five teams who will start this season thinking that their aim is to win the league. It is shaping up for another good season again.
“Ourselves, Woodlands, Pudsey, Farsley and New Farnley will be going into the season thinking that they have a team strong enough to compete. I do think there will be a lot of teams capable of beating each other.”
The vastly-experienced former Yorkshire player, in his sixth season at Bennett Lane and needing 77 league runs to reach the 10,000 milestone, added: “At the point in my career, you think there might not be that many more chances.
“But we have a team and situation in there where you kind of think we have the players, experience and know-how to win a league or go on a cup run and it is about taking that opportunity and grasping it while you can.”
Adhering to the maxim that fixing the roof is always advisable when the sun is shining, Heaton have been quick to bolster their ranks from a position of strength.
Pudsey Congs bowler Josh Hollings has added to their attack, while Ben Kohler-Cadmore has arrived from Driffield.
But the Tewits must do without batsman Richard Foster and key spin bowler Muhammad Rameez, a big part of their recent success, but they have been quick to fill the gap left by Rameez by bringing in left-armer Aqsad Ali from Batley.
Fellows said: “Rameez has been brilliant for us for the last two years, no doubt about it. But he was not eligible to come over this year.
“It was a little bit drawn out as we were unsure whether he would be able to come back. But we have signed Ali, who has a decent pedigree.
“He was injured for a lot of last season, but it is only two or three years ago he was playing minor-county cricket.
“And he comes as a like-for-like replacement. I certainly would not expect him to get 50 or 60 wickets at an average of ten. But he is an experienced cricketer and I am sure he will do well.”
Woodlands, without Scott Richardson and Ahmed tomorrow, have also made interesting close-season additions in the shape of left-arm quickie Bilal Muhammed and Pakistan overseas batsman Ashfaq Ahmed.
PUDSEY ST LAWRENCE hope the benefits of continuity can bare fruit this year, despite a disappointing 2017.
Saints’ quest to claim a hat-trick of top-flight titles may have floundered last term, but the club have foregone the need for a big overhaul. It is a wise philosophy, given the talent already on deck at Tofts Road.
There has been one significant change, with a new captain in the shape of the experienced Chris Marsden, who replaces James Smith.
The pair are among a group of battle-hardened, proven league operators among the St Lawrence ranks and Marsden is hoping those qualities can prove a trump card.
Marsden said: “We hope to be seen as a team who can challenge. Keeping a group of lads together for such a long period of time bodes well and gets us through a lot of games where it is close run.
“Charlie Best and Charlie Parker have also been over to Australia in the winter and done really well and we are looking good.”
Yorkshire Academy all-rounder Jordan Thompson will boost Saints’ in all three disciplines, according to Marsden. Second-teamer Archie Scott is set to get his first-team chance in 2018 too.
Saints start at Lightcliffe, who have signed Josh Wheatley from Pudsey Congs and B&B seamer Yasir Abbas.
Farsley – who have signed Yorkshire paceman James Wainman and overseas Patrick Kruger – host East Bierley, tipped for a season of struggle.
Two sides who underwhelmed in the league last season, in New Farnley and Cleckheaton, do battle, with both sides hoping to do much better in that regard this season.
Visiting Cleck, now captained by Mally Nicholson, have brought in a number of newcomers, including David Paynter, Yorkshire player Tom Kohler-Cadmore, all-rounder Tahib Tahir and ex-Farnley player Nick Walker. Farnley have brought in Alex Lilley.
Methley, who have captured Yorkshire’s Matthew Waite, an ex-junior, Lahore all-rounder Waqas Ahmed and batsmen Adam Patel and Adal Islam, welcome Bradford and Bingley.
Scholes, with old boy Kasir Maroof having returned from Lightcliffe, host Townville, now captained by Jack Hughes.
New signings include Cleethorpes spinner Harry Clewett and overseas Shahid Nawaz to their squad.