Lee Nelson warns rivals that Waringstown have burning desire to retain their crown
Lee Nelson is fit to lead Waringstown in their defence of the Ulster Bank Premier League title which, weather permitting, gets under way tomorrow.
Nelson missed last weekend's friendly action against Dublin YMCA after falling in training but he is expecting to have a full strength side available for the game against Lisburn.
Gary Kidd is the only doubt -he has missed the entire pre-season with a side strain - and the bonus is the return of James McCollum, who was due to play for Durham University tomorrow but that game has been postponed so, as he will do for the first month of the season, will fly home for the weekend.
New professional Cobus Pienaar, the Titans' No.1 all-rounder, has arrived and has been impressed by his new surroundings - "Quality first day in Northern Ireland! Was good meeting the lads from @WaringstownCC! Beautiful village and a lovely ground!" he tweeted this week.
Nelson knows if Pienaar can match his fellow South African Ruhan Pretorius' exploits, this season they have a great chance of winning back-to-back titles for the first time since 1992.
"The hunger and desire is there to go again," said the captain. "We still have a young side with plenty to prove and (Northern) Knights places up for grabs."
So who will be Waringstown's biggest rivals? "I expect Instonians and CIYMS to have a big season," said Nelson.
"Instonians have made some good signings, as I expected after tailing away following their league success the previous year."
New arrivals at Shaw's Bridge include former South Africa ODI and T20 international Rusty Theron and Robert McKinley, from Ballymena, although the Knights' opening bowler will miss the first few matches because of university commitments, and Irish passport holder Nathan Smith arrives from Australia with a good record to augment what should be the best seam attack in the league.
CI have a new skipper, with Nigel Jones taking over from Chris Dougherty who wants to concentrate on his batting and winning back his international place, and 38-year-old Justin Kemp, the former South African Test player, was the big name signing of the winter. Zach Rushe and Allen Coulter (from Instonians and CSN respectively) are the other new faces as the Belmont club continue to ring the changes.
Nelson does not expect North Down to repeat their second place finish - "although I didn't expect them to be our closest challengers last year" - and they must make do without the retired Andrew Sutherland. Professional Pieter Malan's runs are likely to be vital.
Civil Service North have replaced Coulter with out-of-favour international Graeme McCarter who is another hoping for an Ireland recall while Lisburn will aim to be challenging for the Stormont side's mid-table place after persuading Steve Lazars to move from Ballymena.
Carrickfergus should be strong enough to stay clear of the bottom with Jamie Holmes and SA Free State skipper Pat Botha in harness, which leaves Derriaghy as favourites to head straight back into Section One with an unchanged side. Their first game, at home to CI, will give them an idea of what to expect.
Tomorrow's fixtures (1pm): Ulster Bank Premier League: Civil Service North v Instonians, Derriaghy v CIYMS (noon), Lisburn v Waringstown, North Down v Carrickfergus.
Section One: Bangor v Ballymena, Downpatrick v Lurgan, Muckamore v Woodvale.
Section Two: Cooke Collegians v Dundrum, Holywood v BISC, Laurelvale v Templepatrick, Millpark v Cregagh.
Section Three: Dungannon v Ards, Larne v Monaghan, Newforge v Donaghadee, Victoria v Dunmurry.