Colne and Nelson are both aiming for improved seasons as the Lancashire League gets underway on Sunday.
Colne have failed to finish higher than 12th in their last three seasons, while Nelson have had mid-table campaigns in the last two years.
I feel the league will be very open this yearMatt Walker
The Horsfielders open up at home to Accrington, but are likely to be without South African professional Thomas Kaber as professional.
And Colne captain Matt Walker outlined his side’s ambitions: “We’re hoping we can continue to make steps in the right direction and move away from fighting to avoid finishing at the foot of the league table.
“Last season saw a couple of games slip through our fingers and we’ll be working hard to turn those narrow defeats into victories.
“We believe a mid-table finish is achievable given the signings we’ve made over the winter, along with the large number of key personnel at various clubs who have left the league for a variety of reasons.
“The return of John Lambert, David Spokes and Aron Pollard should create greater competition for places within both the first and second XIs, which in turn should have a positive effect on performances.”
And Walker anticipates an interesting year: “I feel the league will be very open this year and I’m positive we will create some perceived upsets during the course of the season.
“The winter has seen the likes of Nelson, Lowerhouse, Enfield and Church all lose key players in Tyler McGladdery, Ben Heap, Joe Hawke, Hasan Fazal, Ben Dowling and both Lloyd and Harvey Aspin respectively, and this year may become a transitional season for many as clubs look from within to find new personnel who are capable of replacing the old.
“I feel Ramsbottom will be difficult to beat, along with Burnley, following the return of Vishal Tripathi, and could find themselves fighting it out come September when the silverware is awarded.
“With the Worsley Cup I can’t see past Burnley, if they continue their policy to field a ‘specialist’ cup side as per the last couple of years.
“However I’m sure Haslingden will be a difficult opponent in the first round and should they come out victorious, then I fancy they may go all the way themselves.”
Nelson start the season at Church, and skipper Neil Thompson also feels there is the opportunity to climb the table.
Speaking to lancashireleague.com, he said: “Having looked through the ins and outs this year, it appears there are significant changes to numerous squads, some clubs have attracted and retained players well, yet others seem to have struggled a little like ourselves. I think and I’m hoping this will make for a more open season with plenty of upsets along the way.
“We are disappointed to lose a talent like Tyler (McGladdery), however we’re hoping the return of Khurram (Nazir) will boost our strength in other areas.
“Other than that, the core group is another year older now, and we just hope the young talent that has shone through in recent years will continue to show improvements.
“Everyone at the club is optimistic about the signing of a new professional (Keshav Maharaj), especially on the bowling front.
“Once again, as a club we set ourselves goals and that is to build on last year’s success, whether that’s a higher league finish or making a cup final.”