The Nationals are a month away but that doesn’t stop us trying to work out who might win there this year. We start with a look at the A grade, which probably hasn’t been this close for a number of years. There seem to be four real contenders and we look at them all in turn.
Probable team: Guy Robertson (c), James Robertson, Shelley King, Brian Davidge, Martin Brookes and Tom Simkin
The Highlanders are the reigning champions and the favourites for this year’s A grade title. Their team has changed since last year though with the departure of Rick Murray and Andrew Schaefer. It is rumoured both may return for the Nationals but it seems unlikely that Rick will, though Andrew may apparently play in a second Highlanders A grade team which will also feature Edward Beckerlegge and some of their younger players.
Interestingly, if Highlanders do win the Nationals again this year it will be the first time in three years that a foreign player has been in the winning A grade side. Australian Brian Davidge is the only foreign player in the Highlanders line up but last year they were completely British, as were Pennine the year before when they won it.
Probable team: Greg Sargeant( c), Hamish Michael, Sophie Lodder, Jono Keen, Alex Bull and Dan Duhig
Arden lost out to the Highlanders in a very close fought final last year and no doubt will be desperate for revenge. They have matched Highlanders this year and have won more A grades than them but whether they will be able to beat them on the big occasion remains to be seen. However, they have probably lost their inspirational captain Jason Burbidge (who is also the present UK Captain) to a knee injury and this could well mean an end to their hopes.
They do still have plenty of experience in their side in the form of the Zimbabweans Hamish and Greg and they have young talent in Sophie, Jono, Alex and Dan. If they do win it will be the first Arden A grade win at Nationals (I think) and the parties at Henley would go on well into the night.
Probable Team: Jason Webb (c), Josh Greenwood, Ruth Simkin, Sarah Simkin, Tessa Newton, Will Waterer or Oscar Harding
Kent haven’t picked up the Nationals trophy since 2002 and haven’t been in the final since 2004 where they were soundly beaten by Pennine. Their team has changed alot since those days, indeed only their captain Webby knows what it is like to lift the A grade trophy at Nationals. You can never discount any team that has Jason in it and with the Simkin girls joining them this year they are looking a lot stronger.
Kent won at the Welsh Tournament and came second at Liscombe and Midland. They do have one major problem though and that is where best to use Webby, at number 1 or number 3. He was on brilliant form at Midland at 1 and Will did well at 3. Webby is no doubt a better 3 than Will though, and so if he goes there they will probably put Oscar at number 1. Either way, Kent could well get to the final, especially with Arden lacking Jason Burbidge, but whether they can beat a full strength Highalnders side remains to be seen.
Probable team: Simon Shearing (c), Lizzie Wright-Roberts, Debbie Harris, Luke Mathie, Charlie Wright-Roberts and Jess Shearing
The Welsh team is very strong this year, not least due to the addition of Debbie Harris. They also have other players who could come in, such as Becky Shearing or Charlotte Pykett.
The Welsh enjoyed a very good start to the season, playing very well and winning at both Kent and at Pennine. Since then they haven’t had all their players but they must all surely be back for the Nationals and a full strength team could definitely trouble Arden and Highlanders and possibly even beat them if they were on top form.
The Welsh players do all seem to have been on good form this season and they are all well horsed. Though it might be perhaps be unwise to bet on them winning the title, it may also be unwise to bet against them getting to the final at the expense of of either Kent or Arden.