THE trophies have been decided in both Conferences, with Holmfirth and Barkisland assured of their places in next year’s Drakes League Premiership.
With just the play-off finalists still to be decided, attention now switches firmly to the race for the big one – the Byrom Shield.
There has been little or nothing to choose between Honley and Skelmanthorpe all season, and it could still go either way. Honley won the only League clash between the two this season, while Skelmanthorpe more than gained revenge when they lifted the Sykes Cup at Honley’s expense last month.
Although on paper, it would appear that Skelmanthorpe may just have the harder of the two run-ins, Honley have to tackle several clubs who will be fighting for their very Premiership lives, so they will not be expecting any favours.
For the last two seasons Honley have been League and Cup champions, but having had one of those trophies wrenched from their grasp in confident manner by Skelmanthorpe skipper Adam Dollive in the Romida-backed Cup at Elland – not to mention crashing out to Scholes in the final of the inaugural Examiner Twenty/20 Trophy – skipper Robert Moore’s men will now be even more determined not to end the season without anything to show for their efforts.
Going into this weekend’s double header, Honley held a four-point advantage over the Cup conquerors, and that could be very significant with four games remaining, plus they also have a record of 10 six-point wins, which is testament to their strong three-pronged bowling attack, comprising Ritchie Howarth – who grabbed a season’s best seven for 67 last week to take his tally beyond 60 for the season – Harlon Haye (just below 60) and Vishal Bhatia (exactly 50).
Micklehurst at home (today) and bottom club Hall Bower away tomorrow are followed by an away trip to Emley Clarence and a last-day-of-the-season home game with Meltham to end Honley’s run-in.
Meanwhile, Skelmanthorpe have Shepley away (today), Elland at home (tomorrow), followed by a home game against Golcar and a long trip to Delph on the last day.
It’s hard to see Honley slipping up, unless their former teammate Matthew Wood, now at Emley, happens to go very big in the Clarence clash, and while Skelmanthorpe have proved equally as strong this year, they do have four potentially harder games, particularly against third-placed Elland, who up until last weekend were probably still in with a very outside chance of getting in the frame.
That disappeared with the home defeat to a Pushkpakumara-fired Shelley, while the top two again prospered, but the Hullen Edgers could still finish with 100 points and a possible top-two finish.
Possibly an even more intriguing climax to the season concerns the relegation candidates.
Hall Bower and Scholes have looked near-certainties for some time – although the latter, having climbed off the foot of the table for the first time since opening day – have won two of their last three games (the other being rained off), but surely their late ‘charge’ is probably too late to save them as they still trail third-bottom Lascelles Hall and Slaithwaite by 17 points.
Meltham produced a massive performance last week to defeat Delph & Dobcross and moved themselves well out of the danger area, and with games at Lascelles Hall, Scholes and Slaithwaite to come they should be looking at Premiership cricket again nextseason.
Newly-promoted Slaithwaite will be desperate not to become a yo-yo side and go straight back down, and with Scholes, Micklehurst, Meltham and Hall Bower in the offing, salvation is totally within their own hands, and if Qaisar Abbas plays in the final four matches, then they have every chance of staving off the drop.
Micklehurst are by no means out of the woods, and only three points ahead of Slaithwaite and the Hall, and with tough games against Honley, Shelley and Emley Clarence coming up, they could be the ones to join Hall Bower and Scholes, who surely must be too far adrift to escape now.
As for the Conference Grand Final play-off contenders, Broad Oak took a leap towards finishing as runners-up in the Frank Platt after the Craig Ruscoe-inspired one wicket win over Kirkheaton last weekend.
With just his No11 for company, Ruscoe hoisted a six into the road to finish unbeaten on 106 which gave the Cowlersley side victory and a four-point lead and with Kirkheaton facing the unenviable task of trying to inflict a first defeat of the season on Barkisland this afternoon, then the Oak must be fancied.
In the Cedar Court, the outlook is somewhat cloudier, as in-form Clayton West beat Marsden to close to within a point of the second placed Hemplow club.
However, after today, when Clayton entertain Thongsbridge and Marsden visit Almondbury, the final round of the season sends Clayton to Barkisland, while Marsden have the easier task of visiting Armitage Bridge.
Should they both slip up, which is unlikely, then Lepton Highlanders lay in wait, only three points behind, and with two much easier games in prospect.
Quite a number of people have expressed an opinion that the League should revert back to the system of relegating just two sides from the Premiership and only promote the winners of either Conference (usually those worried about their own failings), but if that had been the case this season, then most of the issues would have been more-or-less determined some weeks ago, and would have left the remainder of the season very flat.
The three-up, three-down may create more of a yo-yo effect, but there is no denying the added interest it creates.