PAUL Stafford resumed his rightful place as Egerton captain this season with only one goal in his mind – to finally win the title for his hometown club.
The 36-year-old opening batsman handed over the captaincy to Will Halton last year after undergoing ankle surgery just before the start of the campaign.
He returned as understudy for the title run-in but after the Blackburn Road men fell just short, finishing third, Stafford has stepped up to lead their challenge once again.
“When I recovered from my surgery I didn’t feel right coming back in as captain,” he admitted.
“Will did a brilliant job so I was happy to just do my bit to try to help the team as best I could.
“But it is great to be back as captain with this big ambition of winning the league for my hometown club.
“I really think we have a good chance this year and I wanted to be the first Egerton captain to do it.”
Egerton have finished third four times in the past six seasons, in 2012, 2010 and 2008 as well as last season, when they ended 18 points behind surprise champions Little Lever.
Their closest title tilt came in 2010, when they finished just a point behind Farnworth – a fact that continues to frustrate Stafford.
“To have never won it is very frustrating,” he said.
“We have been close for the past five or six years but have just never been able to make it over the line.
“Considering the exceptional players we have had here, that just makes it even more difficult to take.”
Egerton manager Dave Tattersall pulled off a bit of a coup in the close season to tempt former Bolton League-winning captain David Morris Jnr from Farnworth.
They have also recruited Mustafa Bashir and Rizwan Javed to their amateur ranks, while retaining influential Sri Lankan pro Amal Athulathmudali, who hit 52 and 89 in their opening wins against Tonge and Walkden.
Stafford believes the combination of Athulathmudali, Morris and fit-again all-rounder Amal Dalugoda can help them remain unbeaten this weekend – at home to Astley Bridge today and at fellow title contenders Bradshaw tomorrow – and hopefully well into the season.
“Dave has been brought in to give us something that we have been missing at number three,” he said.
“We have got a lot of players, like myself, who try to hit the ball around the ground, but David is a sensible cricketer who looks to stay at the crease and protect his wicket.
“He also has that experience and knows what it takes to win the league.
“It is also great to have Dalugoda back firing. He had a dodgy knee last season, but that has cleared up. But our pro remains our most important player.
“If he can weigh in with another 1,000 runs, and we can all chip in with a few, then we have a real chance.”
* Egerton will fit in a third game this weekend, hosting Leigh in the Lancashire Knockout on Monday.