GLOUCESTER Bushmen will debut in the Manning Cricket tier one competition on Saturday, December 4.
The association agreed on the date at a meeting last week. While community sport in the State has been given the all clear to start from October 25, Manning Cricket Association president Michael Steinmetz said concerns about the number of players not fully vaccinated, and therefore unable to play until after December 1, resulted in the association settling on December 4.
The Bushmen played in the Manning second grade competition for the past two seasons and were semi-finalists both years. Manning abandoned playing a first grade competition when the Mid North Coast Premier League came into being in 2017/18. However, the demise of the league this year saw the association opt for a two tier competition for this summer, with the second tier to divide into two separate competitions at the conclusion of one round.
Five teams, Gloucester, Great Lakes, Taree United, Taree West and Wingham will contest tier 1. Six sides originally nominated but Old Bar has since dropped out after losing a number of players from last season.
Gloucester made a strong debut in second grade two seasons ago before being bundled out in the semi-finals.
The Bushmen lacked consistency last summer but still qualified for the playoffs in fourth spot. However, the finals series was marred by rain. Gloucester bowed out in the elimination semi against Old Bar where not a ball was bowled due to wet weather. Old Bar finished higher on the ladder so moved through to the grand final qualifier.
It was a season where the ball dominated the bat. Harry Clarke was Gloucester's top batter, scoring 174 runs at 21.75 with a high of 36. Jye Barkwill was the third most successful bowler in the competition, taking 21 wickets at 11.33 with 4/39 his best return.
Tier 1 teams will play for the Johnny Martin Shield. Great Lakes and Taree United are again expected to field formidable teams with Wingham tipped to be the big improver as they will have players available who were previously involved in the premier league.