As Richmond try to end 37 years of AFL heartbreak, Wollongong will take their first steps towards beginning a new era of Illawarra cricket success.
The Lighthouse Keepers haven’t held the major trophy since 1970-71, before World Series Cricket, let alone the Twenty20 format becoming all the rage.
Their season opener against University on Saturday bring renewed optimism, after the club signed former South Coast stars Kieran and Joel Gray, as well as Duncan and Lachlan Maddinson.
In a major overhaul, Wollongong’s campaign will be overseen by new coach Chris Cranny, a former Corrimal clubman, who was heavily involved with their junior program.
“It’s going to be a great challenge,” Cranny said.
“Everything has been going really well so far, we’re just looking forward to getting stuck into it.
“Having the new guys there, there’s a real buzz around the place, hopefully it will translate into doing the right things out there and we can be competitive.”
It’s been a remarkable off-season, with Keira premiership player Graeme Batty returning from Sydney cricket to play with reigning Twenty20 champions and competition runners-up Balgownie.
Batty was the best player in the 2013-14 grand final, which controversially ended early for bad light, with Uni within striking distance of Keira’s total. Bally will start as premiership favourites again, having won two in a row before falling to Dapto on the final day in March.
The Magpies travel to Helensburgh as they defend the Twenty20 crown, having beaten Uni in last year’s decider.
The Burgh welcome back Hayden McCrae this season, who plundered more than 1200 runs in England.
However, Cranny is optimistic the Wollongong batting line-up will pile on plenty of runs, with Gray – who represented NSW at the Australian Country Championships in Wollongong in January – leading the charge.
“Our batting is certainly going to be a strength,” he said. “But because I have a background in coaching juniors, I want to make sure this club can develop our young talent and make sure we have some great depth.”
Saturday, round one
9am: HELENSBURGH v BALGOWNIE at Rex Jackson Oval
1.30pm: NORTHERN DISTRICTS v CORRIMAL at Hollymount Oval, UNIVERSITY v WOLLONGONG at University Oval, KEIRA v PORT KEMBLA at Keira Oval, WESTS v DAPTO at Figtree Oval.