By Russell Bennett


West Gippsland Cricket Association Premier division 2017/18 – season preview

Just when will the balance of power in the West Gippsland Cricket Association’s top tier shift? Logic says it has to eventually, but with the new Premier season beginning this weekend Kooweerup, Pakenham and Cardinia again loom as real powerhouses alongside the star-studded Tooradin.
Last season the gap from the fourth and last finals position to those stuck on the outside looking in – from fifth to eighth – ballooned. The Bulls finished in fourth, 32 competition points clear of Upper Beaconsfield in fifth and Merinda Park in sixth.
A super-competitive Clyde is set to push last year’s finalists right from the outset this year with a particularly strong all-round line-up only improved from their off-season acquisitions. A Premier finals berth in year one looks well within reach.
The Cougars could be a power for years to come, but beyond them the likes of Upper Beaconsfield, Merinda Park and Emerald could struggle.
Though all three have top-end talent – particularly the Maroons – once again they likely won’t have enough to consistently trouble the powerhouses.
A look around the division shows plenty to be excited about for fans. Te Ahu Davis (Cardinia) and Mitch Davey (Kooweerup) will be two of the competition’s genuine tearaways while all-rounder Troy McDermott will only bolster an already imposing Pakenham line-up even further.
But the list of outs – particularly at Merinda Park and Emerald – could prove telling. Cobras mainstays and former leaders Daniel Diwell, Simon Parrott and Dylan Cuthbertson have all departed along with key wicket taker Leigh Paterson.
Former Bombers star AJ Walker has also left the competition, while super talented all-rounder Geordie Scott has returned to Gembrook in Sub-District.
That won’t make their former sides’ tasks any easier, but consistently strong sides boast just that – consistency throughout their line-ups. New stars have to emerge now and shoulder more of the responsibility.
Demons captain-coach Mark Cooper had a season in 2016/17 that most local cricketers could only dream of and he’ll again look to lead his men to the ultimate success – once again surrounded by a bevy of class options with both bat and ball.
Not surprisingly, Pakenham – led by the likes of Dom Paynter and Rob Elston – is no different and a third grand final match-up in as many seasons between the two sides would surprise absolutely no one.
Tooradin should never be underestimated and under a new club coach – Gulls favourite son Ricky Holland – and co-captains Aaron Avery and Cal O’Hare, they’ll be out to breathe fire from the outset. They know they have to stand up against last year’s other top four sides. Their side definitely has the talent, and the upside is there, but they’ve got to put it together when it counts most.
It’s come around quick, but now that we’re just a day away, we can’t wait for this new season to start!


Last Season: Fourth
Captain: Alex Nooy
President: Luke Turner
Last season most runs: Neil Barfuss – 585 at 41.79
Last season most wickets: Dwayne Doig – 54 at 14.13
Key ins: Kallan Braid-Ball (Casey-South Melbourne), Matt Welsh (Tooradin), Te Ahu Davis, Aidan Nooy, Kyle Ashton, Brady Boswell.
Key outs: Neil Barfuss (Flinders), Brayden Browne (Tooradin).
Captain’s comments
Players to watch: All the new faces have brought a lot to the young, exciting group. Ben Parrott and Trav Wheller have also had big pre-seasons.
Improvement from last year: Our bowling stock was something we needed to improve on over the off-season. Our pre-season has shown there will be a lot of improvement in this area.
Strengths: The camaraderie amongst our entire group has been a big strength over our pre-season. The balance throughout the senior group is something I am really excited about.
Main threat: The league has seen massive improvement the last few years. There are some super-talented players getting around each club. We certainly won’t be taking any team lightly. Pakenham is a well-led side and will be after redemption from last year.
Expectations: We have a dozen players between 18 and 22 who are ready to take the next step. After making the four in the top tier 17 years in a row, our 18th year will be no exception.
Gazette prediction: Fourth. Though the Bulls have lost their former skipper and one of the Premier grade’s best all-rounders, they’ve got plenty of incoming and existing top-end talent that should have them primed for another finals appearance.


Last Season: Premiers in District division
Captain: John Simpson
President: Paul Duyvestyn
Last season most runs: Gavin Britt – 664 at 47.43
Last season most wickets: Nick Sadler – 36 at 14.25
Ins: Lee Murdoch, Joraver Sidhu (Kalgidhar), Farhan Hussain (Buckley Ridges), Brett Reid (returning from injury).
Outs: Nil.
Captain’s comments
Players to watch: Nick Sadler, Kane Avard and Damasara Menuwara.
Improvement from last year: Our batting depth has improved with a few new all-rounders coming to the club.
Strengths: Bowling has always been a strength of Clyde and our new ball bowling attack may surprise a few top-order batsmen. Our overall depth between the first and second Xis is also very strong.
Main threat: Kooweerup, Pakenham and Tooradin.
Expectations: Coming up to Premier this year we are looking to push the top sides and play finals.
Gazette prediction: Fifth. Along with Tooradin, Clyde has some of the best depth of any club in the WGCA and will make a huge impact in its first season up in Premier. The Cougars are set to be around the finals mark all season.


Last Season: Seventh
Captain: Mitch Daley
President: Kris Strong
Last season most runs: AJ Walker – 426 at 30.43
Last season most wickets: Geordie Scott – 15 at 22.40
Ins: Aaron Brooks (Ashburton), Julian Scott (Returning).
Outs: AJ Walker (Bentleigh), Geordie Scott (Gembrook).
Captain’s comments
Players to watch: Trent Rolfs, Julian Scott and Mitch Thomas.
Improvement from last year: We played some really good cricket in patches last season and we’re looking to do that on a more consistent basis.
Strengths: Our experienced bowling attack and our batting depth.
Main threat: Pakenham, Kooweerup and Tooradin.
Expectations: With a really good mix of experienced and younger players we’re looking forward to a competitive season.
Gazette prediction: Eighth. Emerald will be looking for more consistent effort across the board from its first XI, which it’ll need in the absence of AJ Walker and Geordie Scott. The particularly tight-knit group will be hugely entertaining to watch, but wins may be hard to come by in such a tough tier.


Last season: First (Premiers)
Captain: Mark Cooper
President: Matt Davey
Last season most runs: Mark Cooper – 792 at 72.00
Last season most wickets: Jess Mathers – 36 at 14.67
Ins: Mitch Davey.
Outs: Cody Miller (Dandenong), Jason Cox (Monash Tigers).
Captain’s comments
Players to watch: Chris Bright, Mitch Davey, Jack Bacon and Lachie Ramage.
Improvement from last year: Hopefully our young guys coming through can keep improving and playing more of a role as they get comfortable playing first XI cricket.
Strengths: I think our team unity was really strong last season and we put some really good pillars in place, both on and off the field. We are looking to build on this and with Matt Davey stepping up as president again I think the future looks really bright.
Main threat: I think all sides will improve from last season. Every game will be a challenge for us.
Expectations: To continue to develop our players in all our grades. We want to be playing in March but we have to play good cricket to get there again.
Gazette prediction: Premiers. After last year’s astonishing grand final win, it’s almost impossible to look beyond the Demons as favourites for yet another Premier grade crown. They have match-turning weapons right throughout with bat, ball and in the field and are primed for yet another strong campaign. Look for tall left-arm quick Mitch Davey to have a hugely impressive season, provided he stays injury-free.


Last season: Fourth
Captain: Andrew Martin
President: Heath Gibson
Last season most runs: Daniel McCalman – 310 at 23.85
Last season most wickets: Leigh Paterson – 31 at 19.58
Ins: Mark Thomas (Croydon Ranges – new coach), Jordon Thomas (Croydon Ranges), Mitchell Thomas (Croydon Ranges), Shannon Mathers (returning).
Outs: Daniel Diwell (Glen Alvie), Simon Parrott (Langwarrin), Leigh Paterson (Langwarrin), Dylan Cuthbertson (St Andrews).
Captain’s comments
Players to watch: Mitchell Thomas, Jordon Thomas and Campbell Bryan.
Improvement from last year: This is a bit of a rebuilding year for us. A new coach means new opportunities throughout the club. We’ll be looking to improve our consistency and competitiveness, especially against top four sides.
Strengths: We feel our batting will be a strength of ours this season.
Main threat: Koowee, Pakenham and Tooradin will all be strong once again. Cardinia looked to have recruited well and Clyde will be competitive coming up a division.
Expectations: An improved finish on last season’s sixth.
Gazette prediction: Seventh. The Cobras will sorely feel the loss of four of their strongest contributors in recent seasons, particularly former captain Diwell. They’ll likely finish around the same mark as 2016/17.


Last season: Second (runners-up)
Captain: Dom Paynter
President: Phil Anning
Last season most runs: Chris Smith – 569 at 35.56
Last season most wickets: Tommy Tyrrell – 43 at 10.77
Ins: Troy McDermott (Aura Vale), Shannon Mitchell (Jindivick), Jordan Pearse.
Outs: Nil.
Captain’s comments
Players to watch: Troy McDermott – a strong all-rounder who will add class to all aspects of our game.
Improvement from last year: We need to improve our ability to bat for long periods of time, which we lacked last season and showed in the final.
Strengths: Our all-round ability with a number of quality all-rounders; bowling options and our fielding.
Main threat: Kooweerup, Tooradin, Cardinia and Clyde.
Expectations: Our only aim is to make finals – with even contributions from as many players as possible to give us the best chance to be up the top half of the ladder at season’s end.
Gazette prediction: Runners-up. The Lions have only improved given the addition of McDermott and loom large as Kooweerup’s biggest threat. They’ll be hell-bent on avenging last year’s grand final loss, and if the two sides meet again in this year’s decider look for another memorable chapter to be written into WGCA history.


Last season: Third
Co-Captains: Aaron Avery and Cal O’Hare
President: Kane Latham
Last season most runs: Tom Hussey – 541 at 49.18
Last season most wickets: Kade Burns – 28 at 16.57
Ins: Brayden Browne (Cardinia).
Outs: Matt Welsh (Cardinia), Mark Andolfatto (Retired), Jarred Thompson (Catani).
Captain’s comments
Players to watch: Bradey Welsh has been around a while now, has had a massive pre-season and I think is ready to take the next step of being a consistent senior cricketer.
Improvement from last year: I think our improvement from last year has to be our consistency. We were very good against the bottom four but terrible against the top four. If we want to return to the top, a consistent effort from all players in every game is the key.
Strengths: Our strength this year will be our team unity. We will play for each other win, lose or draw and we will not rely on any one person week in, week out.
Main threat: It’s hard to say who the main threats are. We haven’t really heard much from around the league. Pakenham will obviously be strong as well as Kooweerup and Cardinia, and Clyde could be anything and we wouldn’t be surprised if Upper Beaconsfield are stronger again as well. It’s going to be very even and every game will matter.
Expectations: I expect us to enjoy the game of cricket again, play for each other and be consistent in our performances. I expect all our leaders to lead the way early with bat and ball. We have a huge first month of cricket ahead of us and that’s as far as we are thinking at the moment.
Gazette prediction: Third. The star-studded Tooradin again looms as a real contender in 2017/18 but by Avery’s own admission the side needs to lift against the other title aspirants.


Last season: Fifth
Captain: Bathiya Perera
President: Nick Pastras
Last season most runs: Bathiya Perera – 403 at 31.00
Last season most wickets: Scott Pitcher – 26 at 18.73
Ins: Imesh Lakkana Jayasekera, Michael Harold.
Outs: Tiron Fernando, Dulan Burman, Alamdar Raza, Rukshan Carim, Inesh Rabel.
Captain’s comments
Players to watch: Kyle Gibbs and Scott Pitcher.
Improvement from last year: Our bowling.
Strengths: Our bowling and fielding.
Main threat: Emerald.
Expectations: To finish in the top four.
Gazette prediction: Sixth. Upper Beaconsfield retains its two biggest weapons from last season in Perera and Pitcher but likely won’t quite have the depth to threaten the top four in 2017/18.

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