Armidale Cricket’s biggest rivals are set to collide once again as the senior season resumes this Saturday.
Hillgrove and Easts have shared plenty of tight encounters in recent years and the round eight clash is expected to be no different.
While Easts have experienced a near perfect start to their season, Hillgrove’s season began unsteady but they managed to find some form late in 2018 against City.
Hillgrove will have to face the top-placed side missing a trio of their regular first graders but captain Matt Schaefer is confident in the players stepping up to fill the void.
“We are looking alright, we have a couple out – Bails [Matt Baillie] and [Will] Archer are away this weekend, and Max Laurie,” he said.
“They are probably three of our better players but we should be able to call on a couple of our second graders. Nick Sewell and Max Alcorn are coming up so it will be good to have those guys in first grade as well.
“Sewelly has played a lot of first grade cricket in the past as well so we know what he can do on his day and Max has been going well in second grade this year as well so he gets an opportunity.”
Teenage quick Jackson Gwynne is missing for Easts but Schaefer believes their bowling attack is more than capable of filling that gap.
“He is a big out for them, he is a quality cricketer but their other bowlers have proved all year they can do a job, with Uppy [Sam Uphill] and Todd [Francis] bowling like they have been we can't take it easy at all on them,” he said.
“They are the benchmark at the moment, they probably have been for the last couple of years, and all of our clashes are pretty close.”
Hillgrove’s struggle before the break coincided with a lack of numbers at training but Schaefer said numbers in the nets are back up.
“I think the boys are all looking forward to getting back into it,” he said.
“They have been training the house down for the last week or so.”
Easts skipper Todd Francis said aside from Gwynne, his team is full-strength.
“Generally it takes everyone a couple weeks for everyone to be back on deck after Chrissy,” he said.
“We are not going too bad for our numbers.”
Easts are eager to take on Hillgrove and are aiming to continue their dominant form.
“It is always a pretty good contest isn't it? We try and get the best out of each other,” Francis said.
“It will be interesting to see, we had a decent start to the year so hopefully we can just continue that going forward.
“We will just take each game as it comes and see what we can come up with.”
Francis’ side got the better of Hillgrove in round three but is wary of the team filled with potential match-winners.
“They wouldn't have liked the way they started too much but cricket is a funny game, they can turn it around really quick, and they have some good players there to turn it around,” he said.
“They are always a very, very good side so we will have to be at our best to hopefully get the right result for us.”