Hamer Cup champions Padiham have been picked out as realistic title challengers in next season’s Anthony Axford North West Cricket League Premiership division.

That is the view of Farnworth Social Circle professional Jameel Stuart, who has been speaking as part of a season review for the NWCL website.

Title-winning captain Josh Gent from Little Lever, Simon Booth (Farnworth), Mack Spencer (Ribblesdale Wanderers) and Liam Winstanley (Brinscall) also took part in the discussion.

Padiham had a fantastic season in 2023, adding a fifth-placed finish in the league to their cup triumph, beating Settle in the final.

West Indian Stuart was the league’s leading run-scorer with 1,296 added to 57 wickets.

He said: “I was very impressed with Padiham.

“I thought, overall, they had the best all-round team in the league. Everyone chips in. If they can keep the same team, I think they will challenge.

“I’d also say ourselves, Farnworth as well.

“You should also watch out for Tonge this year. Their pro (Hashan Dumindu) is very good, and they’ve signed Justin Gilliland as their overseas amateur from Barnoldswick. He’s a very good player. They are ones to watch out for.”

As part of the discussion, Ribblesdale Wanderers skipper Spencer revealed that NWCL amateur player of the season Andrew Needham is leaving the club ahead of next season and that the job of replacing him is not an easy one.

Needham was nominated as the league’s best amateur by the 24 clubs, scoring 745 runs with a best of 143 added to 21 dismissals behind the stumps.

He is joining Northern League side St Annes.

“Andy’s actually leaving, so I don’t want to give too much praise!” Spencer smiled. “He fancied a fresh challenge, so he has gone over to St Annes.

“He’s a quality bat and quality keeper, and he was fantastic for us.

“We’re trying to sign a couple of lads to replace him. But it’s quite hard to find an amateur who can score 1,000 runs and keep the way he does. We’re working on something.”

Wanderers finished 10th in last season’s Premiership with 13 wins, securing a place in the top flight for 2024 when the league splits into two divisions and promotion and relegation is introduced.

“We started off well and finished well,” reflected opening batter Spencer.

“In July and August, we were very inconsistent. We got on a streak of winning and on a streak of losing as well. It was probably down to having a pretty young team.

“I was out of form in July and August, which didn’t help. But, overall, it was a positive season.”

Brinscall will be one of the teams playing in the second tier next season, with promotion their main aim.

“Absolutely,” said stalwart batter Winstanley.

“If you play in that Championship division, if you go into the start of the season not trying to get out of it, there’s something wrong.

“It’s definitely an aim of ours to be up there challenging.”

Brinscall finished 21st out of 24 clubs, winning four times. One of those was an impressive final day win away at champions Little Lever.

“We came into the season thinking we had a pretty strong side, but we lost a couple of players pretty early and the professional signing (Jon Hinrichsen) didn’t really work out for us,” continued Winstanley. “These are important things.

“We got a couple of wins towards the end of the season, which was encouraging.

“We ended the season with a bit more team spirit, and we felt a bit more like a Brinscall side. In hindsight, we didn’t have that at the start of the season.

“It was great for us to finish off the season well.”

On the new league’s first season, Winstanley added: “I think it’s all gone extremely well.

“Put our performances aside, I think the whole NWCL thing has set off really, really well. Credit to everyone who has been involved in that.

“Let’s hope we can pull together as a collection of clubs and drive it forwards because there’s an opportunity here to make a really, really good league.”