Little Lever have been crowned as the inaugural Premiership champions in the Anthony Axford North West Cricket League with three rounds still to play - and the Victory Road side have their eyes set firmly on more success.

Josh Gent’s team won their 17th match out of 20 on Saturday, winning at Ribblesdale Wanderers by seven wickets chasing a revised target of 110 well inside the allotted 32 overs.

Their win, coupled with second-placed Farnworth Social Circle being rained off at Baxenden at the mid-innings interval, means captain Gent and his side cannot be overhauled. They are 39 points clear with only 36 to play for.

Indian overseas amateur Nipun Gaikwad shone with 3-33 to help restrict hosts Wanderers to 148-6 before his compatriot Punit Bisht led the chase with an unbeaten 63 off 76 balls.

That Bisht, the club’s sub-professional for departed Jake Lehmann, won the game and the title with a pulled six kind of sums up their dominance throughout 2023.

“How we finish this season is momentum towards next season,” said a delighted Gent. “We’ll be training as normal on Tuesday, and we’re definitely going to keep it going.

“I’d have to say that this is the best season I’ve played, with us winning the T20 and now the league. And I think it’s the same for the majority of our lads.

“I won the Bolton League in 2013 (the club’s last league title) with Jon Kerrigan as captain. That was a great season - fantastic. I got to the Hamer Cup final as captain the year after, which we lost.

“In 2018 we won the second division league title. But this tops them all. It’s fantastic, and hopefully we can keep it going.”

Little Lever have only lost once this season, at home against lowly Baxenden on August 12. It was, insists Gent, a key moment in their campaign.

“We were in a great position when Jake Lehmann left us, even though we lost his last game against Baxenden,” he said.

“But that result was probably the best thing that happened. It gave us a kick up the backside to switch back on. It made us realise that, ‘This is still on’.

“The last two weeks, we’ve been right on it for three games and have pretty much demolished everyone.”

Sub-pro Bisht has slotted in seamlessly following Australian Lehmann’s departure, the latter leaving with 1,041 runs and an average of 94.64 to his name across all cricket.

“We’ve signed great, but it’s all been planning,” said Gent.

“We relished the challenge of this brand new league. Prior to signing anyone, we knew we had a good side - and everyone has contributed this season.

“I’ve said previously that we’ve been knocking on the door for a few years. We’ve just needed a good pro to go along with the amateurs, including Nipun, who was with us last year.

“Getting Jake to go along with what we’ve had, it’s shown. We’ve lost one game so far this year. We didn’t want to say it previously, but we’ve been pretty comfortable.”

Despite Saturday’s defeat, Ribblesdale remain well placed for a top-12 finish ahead of next season’s divisional split. With three rounds remaining, they are 12 points ahead of 13th-placed Cherry Tree.

But this day was all about Little Lever, who looked to be well set-up for sustained success.

Gent added: “If you come down to Little Lever, you’ll see it’s a very well run club backed by a fantastic committee.

“I’m on the committee myself, but the backing we get from everyone else is unbelievable. They’ve backed me to hilt, and that confidence breeds through into the team.

“The club is in a great position. There’s a fantastic atmosphere at our place, from the juniors right the way up.

“We’re fielding teams all the way through the junior ages at under-9s, which we didn’t do probably four or five years ago. They’re all doing well. We’ve got All Stars as well, and we have a young second and third team.

“It’s really good, and there’s a massive good vibe around the club.”

Elsewhere, Barnoldswick and Earby claimed impressive victories - both set to be playing in the NWCL’s second tier in 2024.

But they can head there brimming with confidence if - in the remaining weeks of the campaign - they can back up Saturday wins at Feniscowles and Brinscall.

Barnoldswick beat Feniscowles by five wickets. Feniscowles’ Pakistani professional Naveed Malik was an unfortunate loser as he underpinned his side’s 173 all out with a measured 86 off 102 balls.

He then struck twice in their defence, but Barnoldswick were carried to a revised 167 target from 41 overs by a similar-styled 80 off 103 from South African amateur opener Justin Gilliland.

Earby beat Brinscall by four wickets chasing 92. South African sub-pro Ockie Erasmus claimed four wickets in Brinscall’s 91 all out before opener Nathan Hodge top-scored with 24 in pursuit.

Barnoldswick won their eighth game in 20, Earby their seventh.

The Hamer Cup final warm-up between Settle and Padiham was the only fixture completely washed out - meaning three points apiece - and Sunday’s cup final was also abandoned with a new date set for September 10.

Every other fixture started, but Atherton versus Astley Bridge, Oswaldtwistle Immanuel versus Eagley, Read against Cherry Tree and Baxenden against Farnworth Social Circle failed to finish.

Second-placed Social Circle’s failure to beat Baxenden handed Little Lever the title. Baxenden pro Jake Hargreaves claimed four wickets in Social Circle’s 233 all out before the rain came. Nathan Elliott top-scored with 77.

Third-placed Farnworth won their 13th match, by four wickets at home to Whalley. Ross Sutton, captaining in Simon Booth’s absence, struck four times in Whalley’s 116-7 in 40 overs before the target was achieved with Bhavesh Raghvani’s middle-order unbeaten 32.

Fourth-placed Lostock continued their superb form with a 48-run home win against Salesbury, their 11th triumph. A 21-over match saw Lostock post 161-6, including 59 for opener Conner Hicklin and a blistering 58 off 24 balls from Pakistani pro Akbar Ur Rehman. In reply, Rob Holgate starred with 5-31 added to four wickets for Tom Sheen as Salesbury were bowled out for 113. Lostock are seven points ahead of local rivals Blackrod in fifth.

Blackrod beat bottom side Walkden by eight wickets pursuing 108. Matthew Readey claimed a new-ball 5-35 for visitors Blackrod, while Thushendra de Zoysa top-scored with an unbeaten 34 in a reply which slipped to 11-2.

Read and Cherry Tree was abandoned at the midway point. Read were 152 all out, four wickets going to professional Ross Bretherton. Being denied the opportunity to chase dented Cherry Tree’s top-12 hopes.

While they are just outside the top 12, Astley Bridge are eighth. They were denied victory at Atherton, where play was abandoned with the visitors at 39-0 in the seventh over chasing 135 in 27. Atherton’s Pakistani pro Zain Abbas made 57 not out in 134-3 from their 27.

Kearsley strengthened their top-12 ambitions and dented Tonge’s in the process, winning a nervy mid-table battle by three wickets chasing just 101. Zaighum Abbas returned a superb new-ball 5-23 to bowl Tonge out for 100.

Kearsley, for whom South African amateur Byron Giraudeaux opened with 45, fell to 80-6 but crept over the line for their 10th win. They are 10th and Tonge 12th.

Seventh-placed Eagley were 20-0 in the seventh over chasing a revised 220 in 40 when rain hit Oswaldtwistle. The hosts’ 222-8 was underpinned by Pakistani sub pro Asad Shafiq’s brilliant 125no - the day’s standout innings.