ONE game in and the Dukes North East Premier Division table already has a familiar look about it, with the big two out in front. Chester-le-Street lead the way after picking up maximum points from their opener at Hetton Lyons, with champions South Northumberland just two points behind.
But both could be tested on Saturday, with the Cestrians taking on a Stockton outfit bolstered by the inclusion of their two County players, and South North facing up to a Lyons team bristling with young talent.
Chester have theoretical home advantage against the Teessiders, but will be playing at Maiden Castle because of the ongoing issues with the Ropery Lane outfield, which was levelled and relaid last September.
The extensive work was undermined by the dreadful weather that followed and the desperately cold spring which meant grass growth was stunted.
Chester have permission from the league to play their home games on neutral grounds of Premier standard until the end of this month, and it is likely that Maiden Castle will be used regularly.
In terms of the cricket, the Cestrians were delighted with the impact of new signings Jon Kean, Usman Arshad and David Foster last week and will go into this match with an unchanged line-up.
Stockton miss skipper Kevin Ward and his brother James, but they expect to be able to call upon Durham duo Keaton Jennings and Jamie Harrison, further lifting spirits following their own successful start to the season.
Hetton Lyons have named an unchanged team for their trip to Roseworth Terrace, with faith placed in promising youngsters Sean Tindale, Jack Burnham and Jack McBeth, who all look to have bright futures.
South North make just one change, skipper John Graham returning after completing a one-match suspension.
Sunderland also have a captain returning to the side. Dan Shurben missed last weekend’s opener, but his team did him proud with a convincing performance to defeat South Shields.
With Greg Applegarth recovered from a bout of food poisoning, the Wearsiders could be at full strength for the trip to Tynemouth.
The stand-out performance on the opening day came from a Durham Academy youngster. Max Morley turned in the best bowling analysis in the Academy’s Premier League history when he claimed 8-28 against Tynemouth, the feat ousting Gary Scott’s 7-24 as the previous best.
Morley hails from Holmfirth near Huddersfield, and his left arm spin is highly regarded. He will be turning his arm over at Benwell Hill this week in an unchanged line-up, something that coach John Windows says is another first.
After the drubbing at Ashbrooke, unchanged South Shields would be forgiven for wanting a slightly easier fixture to follow, but their home game against Blaydon is likely to find their opponents thirsting for success after surprisingly slipping up in a close home defeat to Newcastle.
Gateshead Fell entertain Blaydon’s conquerors Newcastle, who include Jacques du Toit, their sensational match-winner with 84 runs and five wickets.
Sunday sees the first round matches in the extended Banks Salver, which now mixes the First Division newcomers in the same draw as the Premier elite.
There are some intriguing ties in prospect, with Eppleton visiting neighbours Hetton Lyons, Washington entertaining Chester and Sacriston travelling to Tynemouth.