STOCKTON trio Jeff Goninan, Nick Foster and Adrian Chad played key roles as Newcastle's representative cricket team opened their NSW Country Championships campaign in style with a 120-run win against Central North at Tuggerah on Friday.
Goninan, batting No.3, walked to the wicket in the first over and proceeded to topscore with 66 from 76 balls, including two sixes and seven fours.
Chad chipped in with 33 in the middle order, sharing a 58-run partnership with Newcastle City all-rounder Angus McTaggart (49), to help Newcastle post a total of 239.
Central North were 1-51 in reply but Newcastle skipper Foster disrupted their plans with a spell of 5.4 overs that earned him the figures of 4-11.
McTaggart took 2-21 to cap a fine double as Central North collapsed to be all out for 199.
Central Coast (6-295) beat North Coast (241) in Friday's other game.
Newcastle next play North Coast on Saturday, and then Central Coast on Sunday.
In Saturday's round of district first-grade matches, University and Charlestown do battle at Uni Oval in a game that shapes as crucial to their finals aspirations.
Both teams sit equal fifth on the ladder with 32 points, three points behind fourth-placed Merewether.
With five rounds remaining, the loser faces the prospect of playing catch-up in the race for the play-offs. Each side will have key men unavailable because they are on duty with the Newcastle rep team.
Daniel Arms and Daniel Chillingworth are missing for Charlestown, while Uni are without paceman Josh Bennett.
At Harker Oval, unbeaten defending champions Wests will also be depleted when they tackle Waratah-Mayfield, who face a face a make-or-break assignment.
Wests have lost both their opening bowlers, Brad Aldous and Jeremy Nunan, to the rep side, along with hard-hitting Aaron Wivell.
Waratah trail the top four by eight points after last week's loss to Stockton but will give themselves some hope against the short-staffed Rosellas.
At Lynn Oval, second-placed Stockton will also be relying on their second stringers when they host Cardiff-Boolaroo, in the absence of Newcastle trio Foster, Goninan and Chad, and Jarrod Humphreys (North Coast).
Merewether will be intent on consolidating their top-four spot when they travel to Wallsend Oval to take on the struggling Tigers, who last week became the first team to lose to Belmont this season.
Belmont face a tall order to repat that success when they clash with third-placed Newcastle City at Learmonth Park.
In the other game, Hamilton-Wickham, four points adrift of the top four, cannot afford a slip-up when they take on Toronto at Ron Hill Oval.
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