BLACKROD are hoping their blend of youth and experience can establish them as a top division side in the long term.

Like most clubs, the Vicarage Road men are targeting a place in the upper tier when the Association splits into two divisions next season.

They have won one and lost one so far this season and host reigning champions Atherton tomorrow.

Professional Thushendra de Zoysa has continued where he left off last season with a blistering start in the opening two matches.

He took 5-54 and scored 101 in the opening day defeat to Swinton Moorside and followed up with 93 in last weekend’s victory over Lostock.

Captain Graeme Walsh also points to the returns of opening batsman Chris Sanderson from injury and opening bowler Matt Stears and the arrival of overseas player Chamila Wijesinghe as potentially vital to their hopes of a significant improvement on last season’s third-bottom finish.

“Tush was the Bolton Association pro of the year last year,” said Walsh, who is combining the captaincy with being club chairman and playing in the first team this year.

“He scored six hundreds in the last seven games and he’s started on fire this season.

“He’s brilliant. He’s a model pro, and not just on the field, but he is great off it as well in the way he helps the other players and the juniors. He’s a real club man.”

De Zoysa, pictured, has been at Blackrod for six years, the last three as professional, and Sanderson is another experienced player Walsh says has a major influence on the side.

“He missed about three quarters of last season because of injury,” said Walsh.

“He’s played both games this season and it’s a big bonus for us to have him back. It’s like having a new player even though he’s not fully fit yet.”

Blackrod retained all the players they had last year and added Wijesinghe.

“He’s fitted in well, and with Chris back and Matt Stears, who missed 10 or 12 games last year, hopefully playing regularly this year we’re looking stronger,” said Walsh. “And we’ll be keeping an eye on the juniors and looking to give some of them a chance.

“We have a promising player in George Tipping who has just turned 17 and played last year in the first team, opening the batting. He scored 450 runs at under-18s and broke into the under-18s inter-league team.

“With Chris coming back and opening George has dropped to five or six and he’ll get more experience of the first team.

“Danny Robinson is another. He played in the first team last year but it will do him more good to open the batting and bowl in the second team this season and then look to kick on in the first team next year.

“And we’ve a few like that who we’re looking to move up from the third and second teams.”

On the immediate target, Walsh said: “Our aim is to finish in the top group and if we cannot achieve that then finish in the top 10 and get into the top division that way.”