BROAD OAK missed out on promotion by a whisker last year, when they were pipped for the final place by Clayton West in the Conference play-off final.
This year their main divisional rivals are likely to be relegated Scholes and Kirkheaton, but new Oak skipper Graeme Hurlbatt will, without doubt, have the Colne Valley side focused.
Helping the cause will be 23-year-old fast bowler Ben DeAraugo, from North Melbourne, who will be making his first-ever excursion outside Australia.
DeAraugo, who will also probably bat middle order, plays for Strathdale in the Bendigo League and helped them win the Division I final last season.
Broad Oak reached the play-offs last year without an overseas man (the one they had was released early in the campaign), and with top-rated youngsters like Charlie Roebuck and Jack Hargreaves benefiting from an extra year’s experience to go alongside players like James Howson (who had such a good season last time), Stephen Rushworth, Max Freeland and Craig Ruscoe, Hurlbatt’s side should be expected to figure prominently again.
SCHOLES will be desperate to go straight back up at the first time of asking, but it certainly won’t be automatically given.
They have lost the hugely experienced opener Dave Weston along with South African David Smyth who has chosen to play in Derbyshire.
Pakistani all-rounder Shoaib Khan, who back home plays for WAPDA, should be a good replacement for Smyth, having impressed last season at Bowling Old Lane in the Bradford League, but skipper James Noble may find himself short of another quality batsman.
Weston’s departure leaves the captain and Matt Smith a bit exposed, although they do have a number of other new signings in Scott Jagger, from Skelmanthorpe, Adam Steers from Elland, plus the return of Paul Hertzberg and Gareth Wakefield, from Armitage Bridge and Shelley.
KIRKHEATON have chosen not to go down the overseas route this season, preferring instead to rely on players closer to home.
Gary Hodgson takes over as captain, and will be looking towards two new opening batsmen for runs power.
Paul Bottomley has signed from Northowram Fields in the Halifax League, along with Chris Murdoch, who has previously played with North Ferriby in the East Riding League, and who is also a slow left-arm bowler.
Sharing the new ball attack with Ibrar Younis will be another signing, Saeed Bilal, who last season played with Moorlands in the Central Yorkshire League, while the Bankfield club have also recruited Jonathan Whittle from Lascelles Hall.
LINTHWAITE again welcome back West Indian quickie Deighton Butler, a 46-wicket performer last season, as the Manchester Roaders look to improve on fourth place.
Butler, who captained the Windward Islands and St Lucia team in the Twenty/20 Cup had a nine for 41 against Paddock and an eight for 16 against promoted Clayton West last summer, also takes on the mantle of Linthwaite skipper.
All-rounder Imran Malik, who was chief runmaker last year, remains at the club, whose only new recruit is Gavin Brooke, from Broad Oak.
ARMITAGE BRIDGE have recruited a young South African all-rounder, Garth Roeloffze, and skipper Rick Lunn is aiming to improve on last season’s fifth-place finish.
Roeloffze, recommended by his friend Louis Aspeling, comes from Kimberley, and is a left-arm seamer and left-handed batsman.
He is joined by young keeper Ashley Donkersley, who has moved from Thongsbridge, while another player believed to be on the verge of signing as the opening day looms is ex-Shelley player Chris Dimbylow.
PADDOCK had to seek re-election last season after finishing at the bottom of the Conference pile, so they will be hoping Australian all-rounder Joel Harrison can spearhead an improvement.
Harrison hails from Perth and plays in the same league as Elliott Lawrie who impressed with Rastrick last year (and is back there again) and former Paddock player Luke Jury. He is an opening bowler and early order batsman.
And the West View Rise side have another opening bat in the shape of Phil Cheeseman, who originally comes from Kent, but now lives in this area. Cheeseman is also a first-change bowler, so along with Ibrar Rafiq and Faisal Siddiq, who between them netted 83 wickets last season, Paddock should have a decent bowling attack.
RASTRICK welcome back Aussie all-rounder Lawrie for a second season at Round Hill.
The Perth-based player took 46 wickets last season (with a best of eight for 30 against Paddock), and had a couple of knocks in the 80s, and he will again share the opening attack with Ijaz Shah.
Matthew Lambert is once again captain and will look forward to a solid input from new signing Zeb Mahmood, an early order batsman and spinner, who had spells with Southowram, Baildon and King Cross.
KEXBOROUGH had a torrid time last season, finishing next to bottom, and this year they have lost the talent of Adam Wiles, who topped the batting.
However, Russell Dales, who joined for the last handful of games from Cleethorpes, has taken over as captain, which should take pressure off the usually-prolific opener Mark Bray, and they have signed Indian-born spinner Ayez Ahmed Qureshi, who is EU-qualified.
Qureshi is actually a doctor, working at nearby Barnsley Hospital, but apparently he has not played for a number of years