AFTER last week’s virtual washout, clubs will have another go at kick-starting their season on Saturday, although the weather forecast looks ominous once more.
The undoubted game of the day is the clash at Roseworth Terrace between champions South Northumberland and their great rivals, Chester-le-Street.
The two clubs have dominated for almost a decade and the strength of their squads suggest they will be the front-runners again.
South North struggled manfully to try to defeat the elements last weekend, squeezing 26 overs of play when others had given up the ghost, and no doubt every effort will go into giving themselves the best chance of playing against the Cestrians in one of the showpiece league matches in the calendar.
Chester are still carrying injuries, with Gary Scott not likely to appear until early June following a shoulder operation, and Simon Birtwisle also sidelined by a similar problem, although he is expected to be fit within a couple of weeks.
Seventeen-year-old George Harrison is promoted to the senior side after two excellent seasons opening the batting for the seconds. South North are almost at full strength with Jonny Wightman fit again, although they are awaiting news of Paul Coughlin’s availability.
Sunderland are shaken but not stirred after last week’s chastening batting effort against Durham Academy at the Emirates ICG, and they hope to put things right when they hit the road again.
The Ashbrooke men go to Gateshead Fell to take on last year’s bottom club, but they do so without bowler Chris Rushworth, who is away with Durham, and Dan Woolston.
Fell also have absentees with James Lloyd and Stephen Devenport unavailable, but their new overseas signing, Shoaib Khan, has arrived in the country and will make his debut.
The cock-a-hoop Durham Academy bowlers will be tested again this week, the youngsters travelling to Jesmond to take on a Newcastle side who include opening batsman Mark Stoneman, who has just been registered as their Durham player.
Joe Reynolds and Callum Harding will also be making their first appearances, weather permitting. Unsurprisingly, the Academy go with the same 11.
Elsewhere, student James Hill returns to the South Shields line-up for their home game against Blaydon, although visa delays mean their overseas signing probably won’t make it, while Jonny Malkin is included in the Hetton Lyons side who travel to Tynemouth.
On Sunday, the long road to the National Club Cup final begins with first round matches featuring several Premier League teams.
Former winners South North and Chester-le-Street both have home advantage, against new-look Stockton and North Yorkshire outfit Richmondshire respectively.
Sunderland also came out of the hat first and will play Benwell Hill at Ashbrooke, while South Shields visit Blaydon. The new sponsors of the competition are Kingfisher Beer, who have dangled the considerable carrot of £5,000 of prize money for the eventual winners.