THE new Durham League’s 26 clubs are pitched into a testing bank holiday programme this weekend, with a full complement of 13 matches on both Saturday and Monday.
Once the dust settles on this double dose of action, it is likely that a clearer picture will emerge of just who is likely to be challenging for title honours, and a few of the pre-season favourites have already laid down impressive markers after getting their season off to a flier with opening-day victories.
Burnmoor could not have been more at ease in disposing of Durham City last week, their only problem surrounding working out how many points they had collected, although they were certainly not alone in being challenged by the unfamiliar and labyrinthine points system.
Their double involves two away trips, starting on familiar territory on Saturday at Philadelphia and following on with a trip into the relative unknown at former County League club Crook Town.
Moor have an unchanged side on both days, but their opponents show changes. Phili must reckon without spinner Adam McGuire, while Crook miss foot injury victim Michael Fawcett and promising youngster Liam Burgess, who broke a thumb in schools cricket and could be sidelined for up to six weeks. However, the legendary Steve Chapman is in the country and plays.
Boldon CA began brightly with a Tommy Nixon and Karl Bellerby-inspired victory at Ushaw Moor, and their side is strengthened for the next two tests – a trip to Hylton followed by a home game against struggling Shildon.
Their good news is that West Indian Alvenis Simon arrived in the country yesterday and will make his debut, while Liam Collins, Thomas Jubb and David Batty are available after missing the opener.
Hylton have Stephen Lee Merrington making his seasonal bow.
Seaham Park were well below par against Ryhope last week and the fixture list has not done them any favours by pitching them against buoyant party poopers Whiteleas, and then giving them County League champions Esh Winning two days later.
But Park’s new overseas man, Indian Gaurav Jathar, who impressed last week after being a late replacement for Parvez Aziz. Alan Anderson will be back in the side.
Seaham will be the first visitors to Whiteleas, who show two changes to their winning line-up. Overseas star Sunzow Brahma has arrived from India and the 19-year-old all-rounder will make his debut, while fast bowler Glen Fraser returns after missing the opener.
Horden had the most comfortable of beginnings when they shot out a weakened Shildon Railway for just 40 runs, but they now face more formidable opposition, away to Kimblesworth and at home to Tudhoe.
With Stephen Brett missing the first match, and Josh Broome unavailable, Matthew Bilyard is promoted alongside 17-year-old Josh Wolfe.
Kimblesworth have re-signed Aussie Matt Dixon, who played for them in their Senior League title-winning year, however he will not be able to bowl for the first few weeks following a knee operation a couple of months ago.
Another Dixon, Kevin senior, has also been persuaded to play first-team cricket again and he joins John Lane, who plays his first game for the club.
Marsden were delighted with their display against Kimblesworth last week. With Paul Hobson playing after missing the opener, they expect to do well in a testing double that sees them go to Tudhoe and then entertain Dawdon – the two teams who produced the new league’s first ever centurions.
The match at Tudhoe is likely to be an interesting one. Spennymoor’s appearance at Wembley in the FA Vase final prompted a request from Tudhoe to postpone their games, but agreement was only given to rearrange the second-team match, so the make-up of their team is up in the air, although they do anticipate being at least three or four players short.
Tudhoe gave the Bill Quay bowlers a pounding in racking up 318 last week, a game in which they had two century makers. The third man to top the ton was Dawdon’s Stephen Gale, and he will be facing up to the Quay attack on Saturday, which may give them a sleepless Friday night. Dawdon stick with the same team.
After a losing start, Silksworth face two more tough testsn with a Saturday trip to Esh Winning followed by a home game against Castle Eden.
Phil Middlemiss remains an ankle injury absentee, but it is hoped that Craig Nield, Paul Howe and Michael Agar will all make their seasonal bow.
Castle Eden have to reckon without Alan Unsworth and Richard McGlashan and have yet to name their replacements.
Elsewhere, Ryhope entertain Murton on Saturday, Durham City welcome Evenwood and Peterlee also face former County League opposition, in Mainsforth. Easington will look to add to the early-season problems of Shildon Railway, while Langley Park meet old rivals Ushaw Moor.
On Monday, Hylton are away to Ushaw Moor, Murton host former North East Durham League club Whiteleas, Philadelphia visit Evenwood, Durham City head to Bill Quay and Ryhope are at Mainsforth.