NO-ONE has had a busier off-season in the top-flight of the Bradford League than Farsley.
The Red Laners fell away to a disappointing seventh-place finish last season and it’s been all-change in the winter, with a raft of new signings coming in.
Mark Harrison will again skipper the side, but otherwise the only regulars from last term will be Neil Laidlaw, Chris Henry and Matt Green.
Yorkshire duo Dan Hodgson and James Wainman have signed on, along with Tykes second-teamer Jack Hendy.
On the overseas roster is Jake Fawcett, who has second XI experience with Worcester and Australian district cricket, while former Essex leg spinner Tom Craddock comes in, along with ex-Gomersal man Greg Pickles.
Club chairman David Storr said: “It has been a busy off-season, but I think we have put a side together which is more than capable and hopefully we will be capable of competing.
“Last season, we set off really well and fell away.
“We are really looking forward to the new season and have a really strong side with the majority of the age group around 22 and 23. Hopefully, the young lads will have a good season.
“Because of the new pyramid system, we are hoping it can be a stepping stone to be competing in the ECB Bradford League next season.”
While Farsley are tipped by several observers to be dark horses, many are also fancying Hanging Heaton after their third-placed finish in 2015.
England Under-19 quickie Josh Shaw will open the bowling for the Bennett Laners, with vastly-experienced Ian Philliskirk also coming in, with officials confident of an ‘exciting season’.
Another outfit expected to go well are New Farnley, aiming to build on their impressive fifth-placed finish in their debut campaign in Division One in 2015.
Star recruit is Yorkshire wicketkeeper Andrew Hodd, who will come in as a top-order batsman from mid-May onwards when Jonny Bairstow returns from the Caribbean.
Yorkshire fitness coach Ian Fisher will feature when his commitments allow and Farnley are certainly blessed with spin options with former Tykes and Northants off-spinner James Middlebrook also coming to the club from Pudsey Congs. Secretary Neil Stokoe said: “We should have a good spin attack, that’s for sure.
“Everyone is getting excited about the ECB status next year and we are hoping to deliver the goods on the field to make sure we are involved in that.
“I will be happy if we finish above fifth, if I am quite honest, and I would like a good, decent cup run to give a bit of creditability.
“We did well to finish fifth, but it would be nice to win a cup.
“It’s a belting league and it will be difficult and the two teams who have come up will be no whipping boys either.”
Pudsey Saints and Pudsey Congs are also aiming to make a push at the top, with the latter having brought in Kez Ahmed from East Bierley to replace Glen Roberts, now on the umpiring circuit.
Other Congs recruits include ex-Undercliffe and Thackley wicketkeeper Luke Oldroyd and quick bowler Josh Holling, with Jack Brooks also on their books.
Congs are also hoping to make another county signing ‘in the near future’, according to representative Ralph Middlebrook.
While the Bradford League looks as competitive as it has ever been, there is no doubting which team is the one to beat.
Step forward Cleckheaton, seeking to make it a triple whammy of title triumphs.
Cleck’s recruitment may have been restricted to just Doncaster Town paceman Curtis Free, but many are expecting continuity to bring more success.
Cleck will boosted by the availability all season of ex-Yorkshire seamer Iain Wardlaw with stellar overseas player Tanzeel Altaf, who took 57 league wickets last term, also back.
Confident newcomer Free will make an impact, Cleck spokesperson Kevin Mitchell said: “Curtis can get a bit of bounce out of the putch and has got quite a bit of venom. I think he will rattle a few cages.”
On the competition this season for Cleck, he added: “The team who we believe have recruited really well are Farsley.
People mention Woodlands and Pudsey St Lawrence and us and Hanging Heaton. But Farsley look genuine contenders. It will be highly competitive.”
Second last term, Woodlands are hoping to go one better and will again be spearheaded in the bowling ranks by Safraz Ahmed in his 15th season as overseas and skipper Pieter Swanepoel – with a more youthful look across the rest of the side.
Swanepoel’s side did suffer a blow recently with top-order man Simon Mason confirming he would be returning to home club Sessay in the York Senior League for family reasons.
Jordan Laban, 21, has been brought in from Jer Lane, with Elliot Richardson, 19, promoted to the firsts. Ex-Elland man Greg Finn keep wicket.
Despite the blow regarding Mason, the return to fitness of Grant Soames, injured for much of last term, will be ‘like having a new player back’ according to secretary Brian Pearson.
On his side’s hopes, Pearson said: “There’s balance back in the side and my watchword as ever is consistency.
“In the past two years, we have lost Bricey (Chris Brice) and Soamesy to injury.
“We thought the side would be able to cope with that, but in effect, it altered the balance of the side.
“Hopefully we have found that now. We have also brought a bit more youth into the side now and shortened the average age also.
“It should be a great competition. Our view of the league now is that it is as good a competition as it will have been since we joined the league in 2001.”
THERE’S no doubt who the team to beat will be in the Central Yorkshire League in 2015 – all-conquering Methley.
Fresh from lifting the Premier League title and Jack Hampshire Trophy and T20 competition, Methley will start as favourites, along with big foes Townville, who they pipped to the championship last term.
That said, Townville have already inflicted a bit of a psychlogical blow before a ball has been bowled, bringing in batsman Chris Holliday from their arch rivals.
Wrenthorpe have raided Carlton to sign Chris Leaf and James Glynn to boost their bowling attack, with Wakefield Thornes, despite a quiet off-season, intent on giving Methley and Townville a run for their money.
Consolidation will be the aim for promoted Buttershaw St Paul’s and Batley, with Ossett having recruited heavily, signing Castleford’s Will Simpson.
Five clubs – Methley, Townville, Wakefield Thornes, Wrenthorpe and Altofts – have applied for the two places reserved for CYL sides in the new ECB Yorkshire South Premier League, which will commence in 2016.
Two sides of these five who finish highest in the Premier Division this season will be accepted into Yorkshire South next year, providing that they both finish in the top three of the table.
If only one finish in the top three, they will automatically qualify.