THE Central Gippsland Cricket Association season kicks off this weekend.
Here’s a look at how each team stacks up in 2015/16.
Last season: Fourth, Premier
Captain-coach: Rhys Holdsworth
Ins: Todd Mann (Traralgon Rovers)
Outs: Will Cheatley (Gormandale)
SINCE readmission to the CGCA, Trafalgar has been a tight-knit club with a core group of talented young players who personified an ‘us-versus-them’ attitude towards the league’s traditional powerhouse clubs.
Victories were often viewed as ‘upsets’ from outsiders and the Ships felt they were seldom given fair credit for their hard work and determination.
That all changed when they rewrote the history books in March with an emphatic grand final win over perennial runners-up Latrobe.
Now the Ships find themselves in the unfamiliar position of defending champions; every game will be under the microscope, every win over-analysed, every loss scrutinized.
Fast bowler Todd Mann (Rovers, TDCA) returns to the club after several years away and the Ships hope he will be a direct replacement for departing star paceman Will Cheatley.
Captain-coach Rhys Holdsworth insisted the returning quick was not a like-for-like swap though.
“He’ll do wonders for our team. We’re hoping he’ll get us 50-plus wickets. I’ve played a lot of cricket with him, and there’s no reason he couldn’t,” Holdsworth said.
The premiership captain is confident his side won’t be affected by the goalposts being shifted, highlighting Trafalgar’s last first-grade (WDCA) premiership.
He pointed out a lot of senior players retired after that victory leaving young talent like James Blaser, Klay Butler, Mann and Cheatley to carry the standard through some tough times.
“We haven’t really set a target this year. I suppose we’d like to aim to finish in the top two, but mainly we’d like to win some of the close games,” Holdsworth said.
Young guns such as Liam White and Blair Clymo will be “in and around” the first team again this year.
Both excelled in a recent practice match, opening the batting and coming in at four respectively.
Last season: Third, grand finalist
Ins: Tyron Gamage (Carrum), Hayden Kimpton (Hazelwood North)
Outs: Kaushik Aphale, Evan Sheekey (Yallourn North), Justin Vajler (Retirement)
Captain: Brendan Evans
Coach: Chris Johnson
The Sharks could hardly be blamed for thinking that last season was their best chance at a flag after running into Rob Phoenix four years in a row.
After falling at the last hurdle again, the changes have been drastic and the club has parted ways with head coach Kaushik Aphale, the best batsman in the league for all four years of his tenure. Champion fast-bowler Chris Johnson has been installed as coach and will take the new ball alongside recruit Tyron Gamage.
Gamage, a Sri Lankan who last season played for Carrum, will keep the Latrobe pace attack up there with one of the league’s best however batting remains a concern for the Sharks who have also lost Justin Vajler to retirement.
“Alfie’s (Aphale) departure leaves a hole in our batting stocks without a doubt, but we’ve appointed Tassie (Johnson) as his replacement and that’s brought a breath of fresh air to our game,” skipper Brendan Evans said.
“We’d probably become a bit reliant on Alfie and with him gone the club will be forced to hand opportunities to young kids like Brad Aitken and Will Kennedy.
“Matt Brewer proved himself last season, taking on the challenge of batting at first drop and we’d love to see some of the next group of kids coming through follow his example.”
Evans conceded Latrobe had likely missed its premiership window but was confident of achieving another finals berth.
Last season: First (minor premiers)
Ins: Ayden Kelly (Thorpdale)
Captain: Andrew Philip
Coach: Steven Mesaric
The Lions looked to be struggling last season before a barnstorming finish took them to the minor premiership.
Club captain Andrew Philip will again lead a youthful side determined to evolve as cricketers in the wake of Moe’s golden decade.
Steve Mesaric has been recruited as coach to relieve the burden on Philip.
Moe has traditionally made effective transitions from a senior playing group to a youthful list, and this time is no different with young guns Joel Mitchell, Nick Clarke, Luke Mulqueen, Nathan Lee and Sean Spiteri all being given first-grade opportunities last season.
Mitchell and Spiteri in particular were impressive, the former proving himself as an opening batsman at the age of 16, while the latter established himself in the middle order with over more than 300 runs including a century against Thorpdale.
Moe’s under 16 team celebrated premiership glory at the end of last season with many talented cricketers still competing in their youth teams.
Seasoned campaigners Philip, Aaron Walshe and Jayden Mathison will need to do most of the heavy lifting.
Last season: Second
Ins: Adam Mates (England)
Outs: Peter Grima (Rawson), Ben Heath (Jeeralang-Boolarra), Callum Buckley (England)
Captain-coach: Shane Peters
After the drought-breaking premiership win of 2013/14, Mirboo North looked a big chance to go back-to-back before being dumped out in the semis by a determined Latrobe.
The Tigers have reacted by making some minor changes, with Rob Phoenix handing the captaincy to club stalwart Shane Peters. Peters will also coach with help from Phoenix and vice-captain Jed Alexander.
Over the past few seasons the Tigers have introduced a number of youth-team players into the first XI, with Liam Smit, Hudson Kerr and Josh Taylor all regulars.
“Three or four kids from the B grade flag last season will be around the squad,” Peters said.
“Our future is in the talent of those kids, like Jesse Buxton, Brandon Bradshaw, and Connor Williams.
“You look a bit silly if you name 12 kids, but those few and a couple others could come into the team… the kids we want to bring in are capable of helping (us) along, rather than needing to be carried.”
Peters will hand over the wicket keeping this season to new English recruit Adam Mates, freeing him up to concentrate on the captaincy and getting the best out of his team after a disappointing exit last season.
Last season: Fifth
Ins: Rory Hare (CATS), Jackson Beani (Ex-Students), Riyaz Pathan (Canada)
Outs: Brandon McDonald (Rosedale-Kilmany)
Captain-coach: Rory Hare
Season 2014/15 was disappointing for traditionally strong club Morwell.
The proud Tigers responded by recruiting captain-coach Rory Hare from CATS to replace the one-term Davin Charleston.
“The minimum target is to make the finals, and as a club, to improve on the hard work of last season,” Hare said.
“Dav (Charleston) will still be involved, he’s going to help out in the bowling department. I’d like to think that I’ll improve the batting, but the experience of Dav and guys like Giddo (Craig Giddens) will help us improve.”
The new head coach highlighted the spin trio of Mark Cukier, new recruit Jackson Beani, and returning Canadian Riyaz Pathan as Morwell’s biggest strength while noting a need to improve in the batting department.
Opening bowler Brandon McDonald is the only major departure and could open the door for younger players like Dylan Day and Glenn Bone, who have played a lot of second grade in recent seasons.
Last season: Sixth
Ins: Evan Sheekey (Latrobe), Callum Polo (Sale), Shane Galea (returning), Luke Nelson (returning)
Captain-coach: Patrick Spiteri
For the past several seasons, Yallourn North has been at the crossroads – not good enough to be a finals force, but at the same time a tough, well-drilled side that visiting teams have found challenging to take points from.
Talented youngsters such as Brandon Bailey, Aidan Vesty and Josh Keyhoe have been given freedom to express their creative talents while being supported by veterans like Glen Sheekey and skipper Patrick Spiteri.
The captain said with no juniors coming through the pressure was on those guys to make sure they click at the top level.
“We’ve got two young kids in Daniel Martini who will be a year older, hopefully he improves and should get the odd game in the ones, and the other is Jake Redman who we hope will play a lot of B grade and come along in the future,” Spiteri said.
“The lack of 16 year-old kids is a concern, so there is a fair bit of pressure on guys like Aidan, Josh and Tyler (Brown) to make sure they perform.”
The Bombers missed finals last season and Spiteri stated making them would be a goal in all three grades this year with increased commitment from the playing group.
The Bombers will be looking to exert pressure with the ball, with openers Lucas Fry and Rowan Kelly bowling well in the nets and both look to have upped their pace. Callum Polo returns to the club after departing for Sale as a junior and Spiteri has been impressed with his strong technique through pre-season.
Spiteri said his side needed to improve in the field after putting down too many chances last year.
Keeping will not be a problem though with four able glovemen on the list.
Last season: Minor premiers, Second Grade
Ins: Ben Heath (Mirboo North), Dillon Leys (Churchill), Craig Dekaste (Traralgon West), Ryan Wilk (returning)
Outs: Ben Duffy (St Vincents)
Captain: Stanley Urbanic, Jnr
Coach: Craig Dekaste
Jeeralang-Boolarra makes the leap to the top division after several years building a strong team in second grade. The Panthers have recruited Craig Dekaste to coach the side and with allrounder Stan Urbanic leading from the front, the CGCA’s newest first grade team is looking to establish itself in the top flight.
The message from Urbanic was aiming to be competitive and win a couple of matches. “Realistically I don’t think we’ll make the finals. If we do, then great, but it’s just about being competitive,” Urbanic said.
“It’s more of a three year plan, so next year and the year after that we’ll be aiming for the finals.”
The Panthers have been building towards this season ever since transferring from the TDCA and although it’s taken some time, the mood around the club is buoyant with 25 plus players tackling pre-season.
The club is set to field all three senior sides in the CGCA for the first time.
The core team will remain largely unchanged with Dekaste, Ben Heath and the returning old boys Dillon Leys and Ryan Wilk slotting seamlessly into the side. “Dillon will have a good year with the ball, Craig will have a good year with the bat,” Urbanic said.
“Some of the guys like (Peter) Gilpin, (Craig) Blackberry and that won’t be as dominant as they were in B grade, but we’ve got a very good core group.
“Moving into the footy club social rooms has been huge for us, we’ve felt like we had to become more of a family-oriented club and we’ll see that this year with the return of the junior teams.”
Teams: Second and Third Grade
Ins: Brenton Faltum (returning)
Outs: Matt Coutts (Sale)
Captain-coach: Mark Whitney
Newborough had hoped to build on last season’s chastening return to first grade, however difficulty in attracting top quality players has forced the Bulldogs to drop into second grade and adopt a three-year plan for another crack at the top-flight.
Club president Leigh Colgrave said the aim was to make it to a second grade grand final before moving back up and give young players more experience.
“Royce (Colgrave) slotted in well in A grade, but for the next couple of years we’ll be looking at playing kids like Dave Reynolds if he improves, Josh Reynolds is an up and coming bowler, and Troy Oakley is on the brink of A grade and with a bit more experience will be one of our key players,” he said.
“That’s the core of our side we hope will go back into the ones someday, and hopefully add a few quality players into the mix in the future.”
With no under 16 team entered the club will be investing heavily in the under 12 and 14 age groups, aware that the club’s future depends on it.
“For the juniors we’ve got a 10-year plan to bring them through,” Colgrave said.
Teams: Second and Third Grade
Ins: Peter Grima (Mirboo North), Brad Dunstan (Willow Grove), Robert Fiddelaars (Willow Grove), Luke Ravenhorst (Willow Grove), Joshua Hammond (Thorpdale), Nathan Hammond (Thorpdale), Benjamin Noy (Moe), Chad Williamson (Hallora), Brad Grima (Mirboo North)
Captain-coach: Peter Grima
The Kookaburras have been on a madcap off-season recruiting drive that has brought a host of new players to the club, and are set to enter two sides in the CGCA for the first time since re-forming in 2011.
Mirboo North premiership player Peter Grima returns to the area having played for neighbouring Willow Grove in the past along with brother Brad, in a move which has attracted plenty of players.
“Pete’s been involved with Hill End Footy Club for a little while, and some of those guys who’ve come across are pretty keen to play under him again which is good,” club president Alex Sword, who will be relieved of the burden of leading the side, said.
The return to two senior sides has been a boost for the club, with Sword highlighting it had been a goal since reformation.
“We’d always had two sides before our recess, so it’s massive for us, and it means that we’ll be able to have a home game every week now,” he said.
“The work that everyone’s been doing around the club has been fantastic, guys chasing players, making sure they’re committed and picking them up for training has been brilliant.”
A large number of younger players played a big part in last season’s second grade campaign where competition will be hot for places from the thirds in the absence of juniors.
Teams: Second and Third Grade
Ins: Ben Duffy (Jeeralang-Boolarra), Rodney Meddings (Morwell)
Outs: Glen Pakarinen (Jeeralang-Boolarra), David Izard (Jeeralang-Boolarra)
Captain-coach: Ben Duffy
THE Saints have endured several bleak seasons with a high turnover of players and very little to cheer about, but new president Wayne Arnold is beginning the unenviable task of rebuilding the once successful club.
“We’ll be rebuilding from the ground up. Probably for a long time we’ve had a bit of a reputation, and we’re trying to change that, to change our attitude, our discipline,” Arnold said.
With the club’s brand new synthetic wicket installed at their home ground on Crinigan Road, the Saints will be able to utilise their clubrooms again four years on from their last game at the ground. Having played home games out of Vary Street in the past, the return to the club’s traditional home will be a massive boost to operations. The Saints are also hopeful of fielding a junior team for the first time in more than seven years, with an under 12 side likely to take the field in green and white later this season.
Teams: Third Grade
Outs: Brad Dunstan (Rawson), Robert Fiddelaars (Rawson), Luke Ravenhorst (Rawson), Jarryd Cutler (Sabbatical, December)
Club Captains: Brody Hams and Nathan Perkins
After two runner-up finishes in as many seasons in third grade, Willow Grove was hoping to field a second grade side for the first time in several years.
However the departure of key players have nipped that in the bud, with Robert Fiddelaars headed to Rawson and Jarryd Cutler taking a year-long break from the game, although the latter will perform coaching duties until December. The Wolves had a senior coach lined up for the entire season however a late cancellation has left them to manage themselves.
The CGCA’s youngest club president Brody Hams said the goal was to build toward establishing an A grade outfit in the future.
“Our goals for the season are to secure another finals berth and continue to build the club from the ground up,” Hams said.
“(Nathan Perkins) and I will be sharing the captaincy again.”
Willow Grove’s rebuild is coming along in the junior department, with two under 12 sides mooted and the club is also confident of fielding an under 14 team for the first time in a number of years.
Teams: Third Grade
Outs: Hayden Kimpton (Latrobe), Jayden Hawkins
Hazelwood North faces a tough task to rebuild this season after consecutive finals appearances in third grade and a premiership in 2013/14.
Hayden Kimpton departs to Latrobe in order to play second grade cricket and the club also looks to have lost skipper Jayden Hawkins.
No junior sides will make it tough for the Razorbacks to create a platform for the future however there are a number of talented third grade players like Brendan Ruddell, David Morrison and Rodney Croft who formed the core group of the club’s premiership success.
Teams: Second and Third Grade
Outs: Joshua Hammond (Rawson), Nathan Hammond (Rawson), Brian Hammond (Rawson), Ayden Kelly (Moe), Travis Pickering, Shannon Pickering, Steven Hibbs, Fraser Smith
After losing more than half of the side that competed in first-grade last season, Thorpdale has been forced into dropping down a division and beginning a rebuild.
The Pickering brothers, Ayden Kelly, Steven Hibbs and the Hammond family are all gone, with the latter departing to Rawson, the Pickering brothers moving to the city and Fraser Smith is not returning from South Africa.
Morgan Clark, Kayne O’Connell and Matt Powell will all be important for Thorpdale this season as they look to establish the side as a force in second grade.
Veteran batsman Harvey Poole will lead from the front as always.