Chester-le-Street’s improved form of recent weeks will make them the favourites to lift the Banks Salver when the final is played at Eppleton on Sunday (1.30pm), writes Chris West.
The Cestrians only won twice in their opening ten league matches, and that effectively ended any hopes they had of making a title bid.
They also went out of the T20, which had virtually become their own property over the last few years, at the group stage which means the Salver becomes their only chance of silverware this summer.
This will be the fifteenth playing of the Salver final, and, as might be expected, Chester have enjoyed some success in the competition having won it outright three times, and also shared the trophy in the 2008 season.
And given the fact their hosts are from the second tier of the NEPL, it will only add to the confidence of the Cestrians despite the fact their opponents enjoy home advantage.
And adding to that confidence further is the return from holiday of several key players, with Quentin Hughes, George Harrison and Gareth Wade all up for selection for the big day, something which gives Street a full squad to pick from.
Those three will also come into the reckoning for Saturday’s league game at Ropery Lane against a Newcastle side buoyed by a successful run chase last week which saw them knock off a target of 273 in double quick time, with both Graham Clark and Jacques du Toit rattling up centuries.
After two impressive wins in their last three matches, Chester have moved up to third in the table, although they are still some 43 points adrift of Hetton Lyons, while South North hold a 83 points advantage over them, and so are effectively out of reach.
With five games to go, the Lyons have little option but to go for broke in each one of their remaining matches, and after recording a maximum at Ashbrooke against struggling Sunderland last time out, they need to aim for the same when they entertain the Durham Academy this week.
With skipper Shaun Birbeck working Gary Scott, another of last week’s centurions, will lead the side while Josh Coughlin will retain his place.
Sunderland could go a long way to banishing any lingering relegation worries when they travel to Teesside to take on fading champions Stockton, who are in the middle of a horrible run of seven matches which have included five defeats and two weather affected draws.
The Wearsiders won’t have the use of either the injured Usman Arshad or the county committed Graham Onions.
Paul Jenkin also faces a late fitness test after dislocating a finger last week.
However, Ross Hughes will continue in the side after his three wicket showing against Hetton.
Meanwhile, Stockton have to reckon without Jamie Harrison with Joe Hewison brought in to replace him.
Paul Coughlin was included in the Durham squad for their county championship match at Old Trafford that starts tomorrow, so Whitburn won’t know until then whether he might be available for their game at home to Blaydon, if not they will put out the same team that won so impressively at Denton Bank.
The visitors have promoted seamer James Lloyd following some positive displays in the second team, including a five wicket haul last time out.
In Saturday’s remaining games, leaders South North bring in Rob Peyton for Adam Heather when they entertain a Tynemouth team who will have a full squad to choose from apart from Marcus Turner and Phil Morse who are both unavailable.
Gateshead Fell keep faith with an unchanged side for the visit of Benwell Hill, who are missing Phil Nicholson but have Richard Coughtrie back from holiday.