Sunderland open the new season with a “home” match against newcomers Mainsforth, a game scheduled to be played Burnopfield because of rugby commitments at Ashbrooke.
Mainsforth, admitted following South Hetton’s shock resignation last month, this season could all be about consolidation, but for the Wearsiders it is all about getting a disastrous couple of years out of their systems.
Chairman Mike Smith was quite open about his club’s ambitions, saying: “We hope we have strengthened, following a poor season last year, to the point where we would like to think we can compete at the top end of the table, have a much more enjoyable season and take it from there.”
Sunderland have made four decent looking acquisitions. In come Rammy and Jaspreet Singh from Stockton, and Kamran Shah and Zaheer Shahbaz from Eppleton.
Smith added: “In Rammy, we get a lad who has represented England at Under-19 level, and a proven run scorer in the NEPL.
“Jazzy has taken 150 Premier League wickets and will bolster the lower middle order.
“The ‘pro’ (Shah) will add batting and bowling options and Zaheer Shahbaz will take the new ball – both played a key role in helping Eppleton win the league last season.”
Mainsforth, runners-up in the Durham League last year, have some new faces.
Pakistani Shoaib Laghari is their overseas man, the 30-year-old off-spinning all-rounder having a reasonable first-class record, while Matty Brown (Darlington) and veteran Richie Hawthorne will add experience to a side which has lost the services of Lee Hutton and Martin Lower.
Burnmoor flirted with the leading positions all summer before eventually finishing fourth and they will be hoping to be competitive again having signed four new players to replace Sri Lankan Irosh Samarasooriya, who will be playing in Nottingham this summer, and youngster Sean Tindale, who has moved to Newcastle to play Premier Division cricket.
The new men include a youngster from Perth. Western Australian Liam Purdy is a left-hand bat and medium pace bowler who is in the UK as a student, and his arrival is complemented by the acquisition of Mathew Whaley from Brandon, 17-year-old Liam Burgess from Crook, and Durham University student Daniel Unsworth, who hails from Ormskirk.
Boldon will again be skippered by Chris Ellison, and they have registered Calum MacLeod as their Durham player.
Umar Waheed will be just 22 shortly after arriving in the country, but he already has 38 first-class matches on his CV – primarily a batsman, the Pakistani Under-23 international averages 33 at the top level, with a best of 183.
The other new ‘old’ face is Darren Hickey, who played at Keswick last summer, but who is well known on the North East circuit having played for a number of clubs in the region.
Boldon begin their programme at home to Sacriston on Saturday, the visitors having been boosted by the return of three former players – Craig Burke (Blaydon), Mel Betts and Martin Hubber (both Washington).
With the departures of Reece Carr, Ian Hunter and Bryan Potts, the team for the opening game is expected to comprise entirely of players who are currently, or have previously, represented the club at junior level.
Seaham Harbour are one of those rare teams where there have been no departures over the close-season.
Harbour finished a respectable eighth in 2015, almost 100 points out of relegation harm’s way, and, with a stable squad further strengthened by the signing of Michael Nunn (Sunderland) and the return of Stuart Pattison from Easington, they will be looking to make further progress.
Anyone with their eyes on promotion will have to get past Felling, who have invested heavily over the winter.
They have signaled their ambitions by signing ex-county players Mark Turner, Gary Scott and Ian Hunter. With keeper Bryan Potts (Sacriston) also on board, Felling look odds on to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish.
Brandon are one of the teams expected to be there or thereabouts – with some exciting new talent on their books.
Ex-Yorkshire player Moin Ashraf joins DCL player of the year Dave Lawlor (Esh Winning), Jake Dunford (Durham MCCU) and Nathan Adamson (South Hetton) in a line-up that looks likely to be challenging for honours after three years of flattering to deceive.
Last year’s runners-up, Washington, have been through a period of rebuilding after losing the services of Betts, Hubber and Hickey, but they have Aussie Trent Mais back for a second season, while Gavin Main is their Durham player.
With Graeme Race having joined from Benwell Hill, the aim is to remain as competitive as they have been in recent seasons.
Tudhoe’s newcomers include Mark Davison (Durham City), Jack Weeks (Willington) and Andrew Robinson (Crook),
Willington welcome back last year’s top league batsman, Anand Singh, and have Chris Smith available again after a year out.
Blaydon will be hoping to put the horrors of relegation behind them, with a lot resting on the shoulders of skipper Mark Drake, and ex-Durham man Graeme Bridge.