By Trevor Jackson
AS the reigning premiers North Sportsman’s comes into the 2020-21 Hoggies Wines Barber Shield competition with a target on their backs.
Everyone wants to beat the champions and there were probably a couple of teams which thought they should have been there or claimed the honours.
North defeated East Gambier in a low-scoring affair to claim the season honours, with the Tigers’ bowlers showing they could defend even a meagre total – just 111 runs in a grand final.
North bowled the Bulldogs out for just 89, as spearhead Tim Young finished with impressive figures of 5/26.
While much will be the same this year as far as North is concerned, the Tigers will not draw too much on that particular experience according to captain Nick McInerney.
North finished the minor rounds fourth, then had a good win over Penola, chasing down a total of 180 for the loss of just three wickets in the semi-final to advance to the big dance.
Much of that came on the back of a century to Jake Schutz and a half-century to Elliott Fisher.
Those two names will be relied on again this season but McInerney said he was still tying up lose ends regarding the final team structure.
He said the majority of the team will be back and at this stage recent trainings were positive.
McInerney said the biggest issue his side faced last year was its performance in the one-day format, with the opening round tomorrow just that – against East at Scott Park.
“We are not hiding behind the fact we haven’t performed well in the one-dayers,” he said of the recent seasons.
“We would like to get a lot better at that – it is an area of focus for us both with the bat and the ball.
“We hope to be a bit more rounded and refined this season.”
How McInerney approaches that scenario will be eagerly watched by other clubs.
Schutz has been a big scorer for the Tigers in recent years and McInerney said his side probably relied on him too much.
“We have had a heavy reliance on him but if he doesn’t make runs we have always had a steadier like Kieran Ashby in the middle,” he said.
“We hope all our top order performs a lot better this season.
“I see a lot of improvement in Elliott Fisher.
“He had a really good year last year and probably played a bigger role than he would have expected batting at four.
“He is only 17 years old and I think there is a lot of upside for him with that exposure last year.
“Having said that I would like to see myself make a few more runs and Mitch Lewis and Declan Kenny.”
It is a similar scenario with the ball in hand, with Young playing a big role.
However, the Tigers are certainly not short with the ball and as they showed in the grand final can defend a small total.
“Our bowling attack is very similar to last season,” McInerney said.
“That has been a strength of ours the last couple of years.
“We have always backed ourselves to defend whatever we get and that is really important.
“Youngy has been around for a while but he has actually improved over the last few years out of sight.
“He has been a lot more consistent and has played a huge role for us.
“Overall we are are happy with our bowling unit but are still looking to improve.”
When it comes to tomorrow’s opening clash, the Bulldogs will surely want to atone for that final game of last season.
At home they should have some advantage and considering the shortcomings mentioned by McInerney in the Tigers short-format game, would hope to draw first blood for the season.
However, McInerney is not too concerned and said his side looks forward to the challenge.
“For us, last year was great but we probably won’t draw on that too much,” he said.
“It is a different format, a different season and a different team.
“It is hard to tell who is in form and who isn’t at this stage, so what we will try to do is win each battle.
“East is a really good side and were last year, so we are really excited by the challenge of testing ourselves against who I think will be the best team in the competition.”