THE 2019-20 Shoalhaven District Cricket Association first grade season was an unforgettable one, to say the least.
From bushfire interruptions to a premature ending due to COVID-19, it was a season like no other.
Despite all this, Berry-Shoalhaven Heads walked away with all three pieces of silverware on offer.
However, with four other revamped sides competing for the two-day and one-day premierships, plus Bay and Basin and Bomaderry in 2020-21 Twenty20 competition, the Magpies could have their work cut out to retain them all.
The first of those three, the T20 competition, gets underway this weekend - as Berry plays Nowra, Batemans Bay takes on Bomaderry (both pool one) and Shoalhaven Ex-Servicemens battles North Nowra-Cambewarra - with Basin having the bye (both pool two).
Before the players enter the pitch for the first time this season, let's look at how all five first grades are shaping up for 2020-21.
Captain: Daniel Smith
Last two-day premiership: Never
Last season: Didn't have a first grade side.
Gains:"We have basically the same side as last year, rolling from second grade into first grade this year," Smith said.
"With the growth of our young players, we felt it was a duty to the association that the Batemans Bay Cricket Club was able to field a first grade side in the Shoalhaven District Cricket Association. Some of our juniors have now come-of-age and are now ready to challenge themselves in the first grade arena. They [the juniors] are under no illusions in terms of the rise in the quality of opposition but relish the opportunity to compete at this level. We all want to see a strong competition now and into the future."
X-factor: "We all have our one X-factor one way or another," Smith said. "We come to first grade as probably the underdogs but that will not dampen our enthusiasm, nor will it diminish our desire to play some hard-edged, no-holds-barred cricket. It is a break-out for all 11 players - we will just have to see who really steps-up over the course of the summer. It is all about the opportunities. Who's going to seize their opportunities? It's exciting times ahead, to be sure."
Strengths of your side: "I believe the team that we have assembled will be able to adapt to any form of cricket and be competitive."
Squad list: Daniel Smith, Stephen Knight, Darcy Knight, Mick Smart, James Dickinson, Sam Lee, Ryan Hall, Zac Henstock, Mitch Hockey, Dylan Rotherham, Luke Condon, Marc Stiller and Matt Sethi.
Prospects: The newcomers to first grade appreciate this season's step up to first grade will be a challenge but one the whole club is prepared to take on.
After a strong season in second grade in 2019-20 and plenty of talented young players such as Ryan Hall, Zac Henstock and Darcy Knight - mixed in with numerous experienced campaigners, the Bay will turn plenty of heads in 2020-21, especially on their home deck at Hanging Rock Oval.
"We are driven to get there and of course, we would love to take home the silverware in our first year back," Smith said.
"Everybody wants to win the trophy, but we are just happy to be able to compete at this level and hopefully provide stiff opposition for all other first grade teams. We won't be rolling over."
"Our club prides itself on having players who play for the love of the game. We play in the right spirit of cricket and play hard, but fair.
"I would like to be able to see Batemans Bay achieve all that it sets out to do this year and go on to field a first grade side again next year and into the future. This season represents a tremendous opportunity to lay a strong foundation for our club and to develop the players coming up through the ranks as the club continues to move forward. I know that we will acquit ourselves proudly, and continue to add to the growth of cricket here on the South Coast, from this year and beyond."
Captain: Jarrod Mitchell with Chris McCarron as club coach.
Last two-day premiership: 2019-20
Last season: Premiers
Gains: Alec Dobson and Charlie Howard.
"Both are club juniors who have been close to first grade in the past couple seasons but are both now ready to make the jump," McCarron said.
"Both have played first grade previously but will be prominent members of the side this season."
"Charlie is an aggressive fast bowler who is also probably the best fielder in the club. Alec is a quality left-arm spinner who has control and variety well beyond his years, he is also an excellent batsman who will gain in confidence from his recent Green Shield selection at Sutherland District Cricket Club."
Losses: David Crapp and Harrison Temple.
"Unfortunately club legend David Crapp required hamstring surgery and will not be available, he's huge loss and is irreplaceable. The team will have to lift collectively to cover him," McCarron said.
X-factor: Nathan Thomas.
"Nathan is as explosive as any batsman in the competition," McCarron said.
"He can take the game away from the opposition with his really attacking batting.
"Not to be outdone are Tom Fletcher and Daniel Troy - I'm expecting massive seasons out of both. Tom got a full season of first grade last year as a 13-year-old and has only gotten stronger and more confident with both his batting and wicketkeeping. I can't wait to see him start to feel like he belongs in first grade because he is just a super talent. Danny has bowled strongly for the last couple of years but his batting hasn't quite been up to scratch. I am expecting his batting to improve and Danny to have a big all-round year."
Strengths of your side: "We are a well-balanced side, with plenty of cricketers with the ability to perform with both bat and ball," McCarron said.
"Everyone is enthusiastic and hungry - we were last year's premiers but given the end of the season, there is a real thirst for this group to prove themselves in the finals - especially in the one-day format, which we believe suits our side best."
Squad list: Jarrod Mitchell, Dylan Cosgrove, Andrew Wright, Nathan Thomas, Tom Fletcher, Daniel Troy, Alec Dobson, Callum Crapp, Dale Lovatt, Jacob Temple, Charlie Howard, Daniel Watson, Max Carr-McCarron and Cooper Bramley.
Prospects: Under the new leadership of Jarrod Mitchell and club coach Chris McCarron, who's got an outstanding SDCA resume, there's no reason why the Magpies won't be competitive in all three formats.
Despite last year being branded a 'rebuilding' season, the Berry Sporting Complex-based club exceeded everyone's expectations and claimed three pieces of silverware, which will no doubt give them plenty of confidence going into the 2020-21 campaign - especially with so many local juniors competing for spots in the top 11.
"Our goal at Berry every year is to win everything," McCarron said.
"We don't want to just compete, we want to win. My personal goal is to see the club win the club championship - this was done last year with just three teams, so we are very keen to win that again with four teams this season. The re-introduction of second grade at our club will be great for the development of a lot of our talented juniors and great for some returning players as well."
Captain: Nick McDonald
Last two-day premiership: 2018-19
Last season: Fifth - missed finals.
Gains: Josh Coulter (Bomaderry) and Alex Baccarini (Ulladulla United).
"Josh will a proven batsmen in this competition and will add depth to our line-up, while Alex is an exciting all-rounder, who will give different options with both the bat and ball," McDonald said.
Losses: Shane Bell and Sam Lowcock.
X-factor: Justin Weller.
"Justin proved two seasons ago why he is the most damaging bowler in this competition, by being a crucial part of our premiership," McDonald said.
"If he can rediscover that form, which I'm confident he can, he is easily one of the most dangerous players in the Shoalhaven - especially when you consider his always-improving form with the bat.
"Another player who I'll be counting on this season is Hyeon Parsons, who looked fantastic opening the batting last season.
"He didn't shy away from the spotlight last season and he's only going to get better with a full campaign under his belt."
Strengths of your side: "With Justin being an obvious strength of our side, our squad is much more suited to the longer format - where he can bowl for long spells with the help of other bowlers such as Hugh Gillen and Colin Searson," McDonald said.
"Similarly, a lot of our batsmen have the ability to spend a long time at the crease.
"With so many young guys coming through the ranks, we have a solid balance between experience and enthusiasm, which should bode well for us during the 2020-21 season."
Squad list: Nick McDonald, Justin Weller, Graham Davidson, Matt Hickmott, Ben Beck, Troy Sweet, Alex Baccarini, Hugh Gillen, Dean Tyson, Colin Searson, Josh Coulter, Ben Seyffer, Josh Palmer, James Biggs, Jack Walsh, Dan May and Hyeon Parsons.
Prospects: Any team with Justin Weller (150 wickets during the past four SDCA seasons) and Nick McDonald (599 runs over the past two campaigns) as the two bookends will have a chance in every game they play, especially when you add in the experience of Graham Davidson and up and coming talents of Parsons, Baccarini, Troy Sweet and Jack Walsh.
Norths, as such, will consider any season without at least one piece of silverware a failure.
"I believe we will go into the season as underdogs but I am hopeful the younger players in our team can learn a lot and improve as the season progresses," McDonald said.
Captains: Michael Coulter and Jono Clack.
Last two-day premiership: 2004-05
Last season: Did not have a first grade team.
Gains: Michael Coulter, Jono Clack, Daniel Bryant, Jason Bell, Kealen Blattner, Ben Lahene, Adam Weller, Ryan Henry, Kurt Quinlan, Adam Weller, Joel Lahane (Bomaderry), Matt Junk (Mosman), Peter King, Dan Beasley, Brad Field (Ulladulla United) and Sam Watts (Shoalhaven Ex-Servicemens).
"With the majority of this squad playing together a lot over the past few seasons, including at Bomaderry in 2019-20, there is plenty of continuity in our side, as well as experience and leadership," Coulter said.
"Then adding the likes of Matt Junk from Mosman and Ulladulla trio Peter King, Dan Beasley, Brad Field, our squad is looking extremely strong across the board."
Losses: Rohan Hustchion and Alex Legge.
X-factor: Matt Junk.
"Matt is a complete cricketer with great skill and knowledge of the game, which makes him a great asset to our side," Coulter said.
During his time in Sydney, Junk played 254 games for Mosman - scoring 2777 runs at an average of 18.76.
He also performed with the ball, taking 324 wickets at 23.94 - including best figures of 7/16.
"As well as Junk, I have a lot of faith that Kealen Blattner is set for a huge season over the summer," Coulter said.
"He [Blattner] was strong for Bomaderry last season and there's no doubt he will want to build on that - with both bat and ball."
Strengths of your side: "Our side is much more suited to the longer format, as bowlers like myself and Junk can produce long spells, which will allow strike bowlers such as Peter King and Jason Bell to stay fresh and make the most of their time with the cherry," Coulter said.
"Then with the bat, we have more than half a dozen players who are capable of producing match-winning innings, including the likes of explosive striker Brad Field, run-machine Bell and Sam Watts, who returns from Ex-Servos."
Squad list: Michael Coulter, Jono Clack, Daniel Bryant, Jason Bell, Kealen Blattner, Ben Lahene, Adam Weller, Ryan Henry, Kurt Quinlan, Adam Weller, Joel Lahane, Matt Junk, Peter King, Dan Beasley, Brad Field, Sam Watts, Hayden Strand, Justin Wallace and John King.
Prospects: Nowra, after not having a first grade side in 2019-20, has pulled together what can only be called an all-star side for this summer.
With the majority of Bomaderry's first grade side returning to the Nowra Showground-based side, as well as the addition of Matt Junk, Sam Watts and the Ulladulla United trio - to an already strong Nowra core - anything short of semi-final action in all three formats won't be good enough.
"We are in it to win it this year and there's no reason why we can't take home all three premierships," Coulter said.
Captain: Daniel Gleeson
Last two-day premiership: 2017-18
Last season: Fourth
Gains: Nate Jones (returns after season off)
"Nate brings more pace to our team. He is a quality fast bowler, who took close to 50 wickets the two seasons prior. If he can replicate those sort of numbers we as a team will have a strong season," Gleeson said.
Losses: Corey Evans, Sam Bagnall and Brandon Booth.
X-factor: "We don't have a single x-factor in our side, we have 11 players who need to contribute each week," Gleeson said.
"In saying that, I'm hoping Manning Berry can have a massive year for us. It's his second season with us and he is a very good all-rounder who has played for Greater Illawarra.
"The other player I'm looking to for a big season is Nathan Tyrell, who has plenty of ability with bat and ball. Last season he was very solid with the ball but hasn't gone big with the bat for us just yet, but I'm confident he will sooner rather than later."
Strengths of your side: "Our depth - we have a lot of players who are more than capable with bat and ball. Myself, Chris Bramley and Blake Munilla will need to have strong seasons with the bat. Our attack will be worth watching when Nate Jones, Lachie Hall and Manning Berry are all playing on the same day," Gleeson said.
Squad list: Daniel Gleeson, Chris Bramley, Graham Phillis, Mathew Ganderton, Manning Berry, Nathan Tyrrell, Blake Munilla, Scott Merivale, Nate Jones, Luke Jones, Lachie Hall and Matt Lawrence
Prospects: On paper, this is one of the strongest Shoalhaven cricket teams assembled over the past few years, with match-winners at both ends of the line-up.
Their top-three (Gleeson, Bramley, Munilla) is arguably the best of the five teams - with each having the ability to score big totals regularly.
All-rounders Ganderton, Berry, Bramley, Tyrrell and Phillis give skipper Gleeson plenty of options with both bat and ball, while Jones and Hall is easily the most feared fast-bowling partnership in the competition.
The shorter form will most likely suit the Hayden Drexel Oval-based side and they'll count the season as a massive disappointment if they don't win any silverware again.