Reigning champions Hamilton-Wickham will be without three of their top-four batsmen and pick up a first-grade debutant for this weekend’s semi-final, but captain Sam Webber doesn’t seem to mind at all.
Webber remains confident about the Pumas’ chances against Newcastle District Cricket Association minor premiers Wests at Harker Oval despite missing the services of Rhys Hanlon, Dave Stevenson and Josh Trappel.
Hanlon has study commitments at Goluburn’s police academy where he’s traveled back from all summer, Stevenson will be part of his sister’s wedding while Webber takes over leadership duties from Trappel, who remains sidelined with a recent suspension.
Webber reckons the unavailability merely opens the door for others, including rookie 20-year-old Neruiben Jayakuma, to step up and give Hamwicks a shot at claiming back-to-back titles.
“We’ve got a few changes and missing three of our top four is a big challenge,” Webber said. “But it just means everyone else has got to chip in and give ourselves something to bowl at. We’re all looking forward to it.”
Jayakuma and Liam Dwyer are among the replacements for Hamwicks, who go into the do-or-die clash with Ben Balcomb as the only top-five batsman left from last year’s grand final win.
Webber and twin-brother Matt will be key in the middle order. Their services with the ball also vital along with opener Andrew Maher and spinner Abe Gibson.
The match-up between Hamwicks’ bowlers and Wests’ batsmen could prove pivotal according to Webber.
“Our bowling attack is one of the strongest in the comp and their batting line-up is one of the strongest in the comp,” he said. “So it will be a good battle.”
Hamwicks secured the fourth and final play-offs spot in Saturday’s last round by completing an outright against wooden spooners Cardiff-Boolaroo.
On the other hand Wests go into the encounter having collected five straight wins en route to the club’s first minor premiership since 1965-1966.
The sole change for the Tom Locker Cup champions will be the district-leading wicket-taker Peter Lojzczyk (neck) in for Stew Morgan.
“It was a hard call because we had 12 blokes and 11 spots so someone had to miss out,” Wests captain James King said. “Pete’s over his neck injury, has bowled well all year and bowled really well at training this week. He’s keen and raring to go.”
Over at No.1 Sportsground in the weekend’s other top-four game, Merewether captain Simon Moore returns from a month out to lead the Lions’ finals charge.
Moore has been sidelined with a rib injury for the last two matches of the regular season, but comes back to bolster Merewether’s batting ranks against Charlestown at No.1 Sportsground.
The skipper and fellow experienced campaigner Troy Goodwin, who missed Merewether’s most recent outing with a wedding, add depth to the line-up.
“It’s a bit more experience back,” Moore said.
Scott Montgomery and Jono Dunn the players to make way.
Third-placed Charlestown, skippered by Steve Mace 33 years after he debuted in a first-grade semi-final, will go into the game unchanged from last round.
Play gets underway at 10:30am on both Saturday and Sunday.
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