Weekend cricket preview
Vernon Carus' marquee signing Adam Parker believes there is much more to come from himself and his team-mates over the course of the summer.
The Factory Lane club – who have won the Moore and Smalley Palace Shield Premier Division title six times out of the last 10 years – have begun the new campaign in ominous fashion.
Last season’s runners-up have claimed maximum points from their opening two games of the season.
However, Parker – who has returned to Vernons after spending the past decade or so playing for Leyland, Preston and more latterly Fleetwood in the Northern League – reckons he and his team-mates have not quite hit the heights performance wise.
“We have had two good wins, but the team itself hasn’t played as well as we would have liked to,” said Parker, who was attached to Middlesex as a youngster. “But obviously that’s a good sign to win two games when we haven’t performed as we would have liked to.”
This weekend’s fixture for Vernons has a little extra spice as they travel to Fulwood and Broughton – the team which pipped them to the league title last year.
Meanwhile, it is derby day in the Northern League as reigning champions Leyland host Preston.
David Makinson’s men have a 100% record so far in the league, but they will be wary of their neighbours, who claimed an excellent win over Morecambe last weekend. Sabbir Patel was the star of the show, taking five wickets. Chorley are at home to Kendal.
Clubs in the Moore and Smalley Palace Shield Premier Division certainly mean business this summer.
That is the view of Garstang skipper Mark Walling, who has certainly detected an extra edge around the division in the early weeks of the season.
For the first time ever, promotion to the Northern League is on offer to teams who finish in the top two positions of the Premier Division and Walling admits the stakes have never been higher.
He has noticed a number of teams have strengthened considerably by signing new players over the winter – with Garstang no exception having swooped for Danny Gilbert and Michael Wellings from Freckleton and Barrow respectively.
They have also brought in promising 19-year-old off-spinner Coen Oosthuysen, who has arrived from South Africa, while 16-year fast bowler Waris Khan Ahmadzai has joined from last season’s champions Fulwood and Broughton.
“I think over the winter there has been quite a lot of activity in terms of teams signing players,” said Walling.
“We have signed four players who have gone straight into our first team.
“Great Eccleston, Vernon Carus – a lot of the top teams have signed players and strengthened.
“It’s a strong league this year and it’s certainly going to be competitive as a lot of teams will want one of those top two spots.
“I think the main thing for us is to go and try to win it.”
The Riversiders have major ambitions to progress as a club and flirted with the idea of joining the re-formed Lancashire League last year.
They eventually decided against switching leagues, but have welcomed the promotion and relegation link-up between the Northern and Palace Shield Leagues.
“The Palace Shield is a good standard of cricket,” Walling said.
“Quite a few teams in our league would hold their own in the Northern League and it’s great that the Palace Shield have brought in promotion.
“I think it’s a good thing for the Northern League too – having the threat of relegation means clubs near the bottom won’t just have an easy ride until the end of the season.”
Perennial title challengers over the last few years, Garstang have never quite managed to get over the line and win it although they did finish in runners-up spot two summers ago.
They have begun this season in fine style, recording two comprehensive victories over Freckleton and Torrisholme and currently lead the way at the top of the table.
They face their first major test this weekend when they travel to Middleforth Green to take on Penwortham, who also have an 100% record.
“It’s been a good start for us but we play Penwortham, who have also got off to a great start,” said Walling.
NORTHERN PREMIER LEAGUE: Barrow v Lancaster, Chorley v Kendal, Leyland v Preston, Morecambe v Blackpool, Netherfield v Fleetwood, St Annes v Penrith
Moore and smalley PALACE SHIELD PREMIER DIVISION: Eccleston v Longridge, Fulwood and Broughton v Vernon Carus, Great Eccleston v Croston, Penwortham v Garstang, Thornton Cleveleys v Freckleton, Torrisholme v Rufford.
Lancashire Cricket Board Knockout Cup: Preliminary round – Garstang v Prescot and Odyssey (Sunday)