BRADFORD LEAGUE champions Cleckheaton may have been on the receiving end of an an opening-day stunner last weekend, but Ralph Middlebrook isn’t fooled.
Granted, the Pudsey Congs spokesperson was as surprised as anyone by Cleck’s shock 164-run defeat at the hands of Bradford and Bingley on Saturday, yet equally, he knows that while form is temporary, class is permanent.
Congs have started the new season with a spring in their step in contrast, courtesy of a 127-run Division One victory over promoted Undercliffe and a crushing Heavy Woollen Cup trouncing of Bradford League newboys Scholes by 358 runs on Sunday.
A number of players have put their hands up, with six different batsmen – Gareth Phillips, Nick Lindley, Andrew Bairstow, Babar Butt, Callum Geldart and Luke Holroyd – having already hit a half-century, with skipper Phillips reaching three figures.
Bowling wise, James Pearson has shown his wares with Kez Ahmed and Josh Holling showing glimpses of their talent, but equally, Congs are expecting a step-up against wounded Cleck at Moorend tomorrow.
Middlebrook said: “Cleckheaton’s result was the surprise of the opening day really.
“But we shall be ignoring that and treating Cleckheaton with the respect, care and attention that the champions deserve as they have some very fine players in their team.
“We will need to be on top of our game, although I don’t think any league game is easy.
“They are the team to beat. Although it is always harder when you are champions.”
The encouraging start to Congs’ campaign comes after a largely positive second half of 2014, which steadied the ship following a desperately poor first half when Congs were among the relegation candidates.
And Middlebrook added: “Our early-season confidence was not displaced.
“It was a good win on Saturday with a really disciplined innings from our captain (Gareth Phillips) to hold the innings together and James Pearson bowled really quick and looked a real handful.
“It was a nice win and the team, although it was the first time they have played together, seem a unit, which was encouraging, while on Sunday, a lot of people got some time in the middle, which is useful.”
Congs’ trip to Cleck is one of a triple-header of mouth-watering matches in the Bradford League top flight.
An intriguing clash takes place at the Barry Jackson Ground where two sides tipped to go well in 2015 lock horns with New Farnley playing host to Hanging Heaton.
Elsewhere, Pudsey St Lawrence, who were pushed by East Bierley last weekend, host another title-aspiring side that started off the campaign in winning fashion in Woodlands, who beat Farnley first time out.
Bierley make the trip to promoted Saltaire, while the other side that came up last term, Undercliffe, play host to Farsley in a derby. Both teams head into the game on the back of opening-day setbacks.
Lightcliffe, who triumphed at Red Lane on Saturday, entertain Cleck’s conquerors B&B.
In Division Two, it’s a free weekend for Yeadon, while Morley, seeking to return to Division One at the first opportunity, visit Windhill.