Washington test of Eppleton’s mettle

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NO sooner had it started than it stopped!

After waiting a month for the Dukes North East Premier League First Division season to begin, First Division teams were sidelined by the weather a week ago, so the bit has never been more fiercely chomped than it is at the moment.

However, despite last Saturday’s league washout, several clubs did get some action on Monday when the second round of the Banks Salver took place.

It gave Eppleton the chance to build on their excellent league start by toppling much-fancied Brandon and turn themselves into the form team of the moment.

And that form is set for another examination on Saturday when they entertain another of the favourites for league success, Washington.

The hosts will once again be at full strength as, too, will be the visitors, who will be parading recent signing Dan Shurben, the ex-Sunderland skipper.

In a remarkable quirk of fixture fate, Washington actually go to Ashbrooke tomorrow night in their first Co-operative Funeralcare T20 group game, while Eppleton have a trip to Blaydon in the short format competition.

While Washington were pulling the Shurben rabbit out of the hat in last week’s league game against Brandon, their opponents also sprang a surprise of their own by fielding former Durham man Ruel Brathwaite, and their chairman, Ian Johnson, explained the background to that appearance.

He said: “We are thrilled that we have signed Ruel as our overseas player for 2014. When he was released from Durham at the end of last season, and subsequently signed for Hampshire, everyone thought that would be the last we would see of him for some time.

“However, with the Hampshire side getting off to such a good start, first-team opportunities have been thin on the ground. Having kept in touch with him, he decided that he’d like to see his old friends from Brandon again.

“The fact that he has become available is a great boost to everyone at the club.

“He’s a very popular lad. Obviously, he’ll be striving to force his way into Hampshire’s first team and if he does then we’ll see less of him than we’d like to, but, as things stand presently, he should be available most weeks and that can only be good for us as we look to gain promotion.”

Brandon begin their weekend with a trip to Whitburn in the T20 tomorrow before hosting Boldon on Saturday.

Boldon, who entertain Hetton Lyons in the T20, only have one slight doubt, with Neil Mulvaney carrying a calf injury.

A late fitness test will determine his participation in the double header.

Seaham Harbour and Sacriston could be sick of the sight of each other come Saturday night as they go head to head in the T20 at Sacriston tomorrow, before heading back to the Harbour for Saturday’s league meeting.

Harbour will be handing a debut to Martin Stephenson, the former Hetton Lyons man. The spinning all-rounder is seen as the ideal like for like replacement for Stuart Lacey, or so cricket manager Stuart Lacey says!

Stephenson will play alongside the returning Jack Lacey and Lewis Aiken, although Seaham do have to reckon without Jeff Laws, Stuart Pattison and Stephen Sennett.

Sacriston are at full strength, other than the sidelined Harry Hubber.

Two more teams “doubling up” are Felling and South Hetton, with tomorrow night’s Front Street T20 being followed by the return in Gateshead the following day.

Felling will welcome back Aussie James Crosthwaite after his trip to the USA, while South Hetton are able to include Tony Murphy after his biking escapades in Holland.

League leaders South Shields are likely to have to make do without Gordon Muchall following his brilliant knock for Durham this week, but they do hope to be able to hand a belated debut to Sam Taylor-Gell when they go to Willington on Saturday.