THE new season gets underway this weekend and, following the promotion of last year’s top two, Burnmoor and Tudhoe into the Premier League, the final stage of the North East pyramid re-structuring programme has been reached.
Division One will now consist of 12 teams, with the eventual champions given the opportunity of promotion to the Premier League subject to certain criteria being met, and the bottom team in NEPL Division One being relegated to replace them.
Within the league itself a two-up, two-down promotion and relegation system will operate.
So, there is plenty to play for, and with Burnmoor, champions in each of the first two seasons of the Durham League, now out of the race, the door is open for the remaining top-flight teams to stake their claim for glory.
Dawdon finished fourth last time out, and with the talented Stephen Gale back as skipper after two years away, the acquisition of Richard Ede from Castle Eden is a useful addition to the Green Drive club’s resources.
Umar Akhtar and Jamie Greenwood have moved on, but Dawdon look capable of doing at least as well as last year, which would make them title contenders on this occasion.
Ede’s move may have weakened Castle Eden and, with Chris Freeman going to Blackhall and John Spellman junior taking a year off from cricket, a lot will rest on the shoulders of little-known South African Aat Lindeque, an off-spinning all-rounder.
At the moment, left-arm spinner Dan Baldwin, who made the move from Darlington in search of first- team cricket, is the only other newcomer.
Horden have set their stall out and are determined to be challenging in the top three.
Sahil Madgaonkar is back for another season at Park Road – the Indian scored 563 runs and took 46 wickets in the league in 2014 – and with new signings Jamie Greenwood (Dawdon), Shaun Bradbury (Boldon) and Lee Jackson (Boldon CA) boosting resources, Horden will be one to watch.
The loss of Kamran Mansoor and Sameer Haque has left a biggish hole to fill at Easington, but Stewart Pattison’s arrival from Seaham Harbour, alongside Indian pro Vinit Dhulap and Stephen Brett (Horden), will go a long way to filling that and captain Dane Wilson is aiming for a top-four slot after finishing mid-table last year.
The overseas interest at Philadelphis will be 25-year-old Aussie Ashley Chilcott, an all-rounder from Perth, while the Bunker Hill club are delighted to see a fully fit Adam Maguire back after missing the whole of last summer with a serious hand injury suffered in 2013.
James Summerside completes the Philadelphia new boys, with those moving on including Lee Innes and Mirza Baig.
Confidence is high at Durham City, who will again be led by their successful promotion skipper, Jake McCann.
Great things are expected of attacking top-order batsman Kevin Sukumar, who can also bowl leg spin, with City getting the chance to sign the Indian as he is spending a year in the UK studying at university.
Their only departure is Steve Oosterhoff, who is working overseas.
For Boldon CA, the immediate future doesn’t look too exciting.
A major exodus of players over the close-season means the club will necessarily be involved in a major rebuilding exercise which will take some time to bear fruit, but there is a clear determination to ensure the long-term future is a much brighter one.
And there is a positive note – with seven first-teamers leaving, the return of Gary Critchley to the side is a wonderful tonic for the CA faithful.
One or two of the other runners and riders in Division One look likely to pose a threat, in particular Mainsforth who, as well as enjoying the return of Pakistan Under-23 player Mohammad Nawaz, who had such a wonderful all-round 2014, have also signed Lee Hutton and Jonny Barnes.
The latter has been one of the most outstanding homegrown professionals in NYSD League history, and, although now reaching the evergreen stage, the fact that he took 77 wickets for champions Darlington last summer tells its own story.
With Anoop Pai being unable to return, 33-year-old Indian Usman Malvi will take the professional berth at Bill Quay, and they also have a Gibraltar international, Scott Chipolina, in their ranks.
Crook have lost a few players and are still struggling to find a professional, while Esh Winning, a front-runner for the last couple of years, have just lost their overseas man after he was called up for a Pakistan A tour – their search for a replacement has begun.