A SEASON with a difference begins on Saturday for NEPL clubs, with the 2015 model representing the culmination of a re-structuring process that had its roots in the discussions between North East clubs that began a decade ago.
With Burnmoor and Tudhoe joining the First Division ranks it means that the league will have 12 teams in each of its top two divisions for the first time, and with promotion and relegation also kicking in between the NEPL and the Durham Cricket League it means that a true pyramid system will now be in operation.
In the Premier Division it’s hard to look beyond the powerful South North side which has been bolstered by the acquisition of former Aussie Test star Marcus North, while South Tyneside’s two representatives will be hoping for solid seasons.
After bouncing back at the first attempt South Shields have stuck with the squad that did them proud, and their unabashed aim is to secure Premier Division survival at the earliest opportunity.
Gordon Muchall remains as their Durham player, and Tim David returns to the club after impressing in 2014 and then enjoying a fine season back home in Australia.
Paceman Liam Dixon returns for a second spell at the club – he enjoyed a decent campaign opening the bowling for Durham University last year.
Whitburn were more than satisfied with a solid season of consolidation that saw them establish themselves as a top-flight club, and their aim is now to build on that, although Felling have had an affect on their line-up by engaging Stuart Walker after several prolific campaigns from the all-rounder at the Village Ground.
They will be hopeful that ex-Sunderland skipper Dan Shurben can fill the runs gap following his transfer from Washington.
Team-mate Dan Woolston has also moved with him, while another former Ashbrooke man, Kieran Waterson, has also been signed, although it could be June before he is fully fit as he battles to overcome long term injury.
Paul Coughlin continues to be their Durham player, while Aussie Scott Condy is back for another summer in the North-East.
However, there is bad news in that key bowler Craig Smith looks to be out for the season with ankle ligament damage, an injury which requires surgery next month.
The season gets underway with Whitburn at home to Blaydon, and Shields hosting Hetton Lyons.
In the First Division, there is a new man at the helm of a Boldon side for the first time in eight years, with Chris Ellison handing over the skipper’s mantle to Joe Coyne.
And there has been an influx of players from neighbours Boldon CA with Tommy Nixon heading a trio that includes Ian Male and Gary Hewitt.
They also had an overseas man lined up, but when he was called up to his country’s training camp the search had to begin all over again, however they will no doubt be comforted by the fact that there have been no departures other than Neil Johnson over the winter.