Harwood top order hitter Harry Bird cracks a ball through the point region during the side's clash against Coffs Diggers earlier this season.
Harwood top order hitter Harry Bird cracks a ball through the point region during the side's clash against Coffs Diggers earlier this season. Ebony Stansfield

PITCH WAR: Passion and pride on the line in annual Shield

CRICKET: There is more than just the annual Grafton Toyota Cotten Shield on the line at McKittrick Park tomorrow.

It is about pride and passion of the region.

It is more than just Clarence River and Lower Clarence locking horns.

It is Clarence Valley cricket's civil war, and neither army is willing to back down from the frontlines.

Instead of muskets and swords, it will be leather and willow that players arm themselves with.

For newly-minted Clarence River leader Brad Chard, it is about avenging years of heartache, while down the river Ben McMahon has a reputation to uphold.

"I am tired of watching our side lose to these blokes," Chard said.

"I think it has been three years since we have beaten them on the representative field and it does hurt.

"We are going out there representing our town, we have it all to play for. It is so hard knowing so many people want to see you win, and then letting them down each time."

 

Brad Chard took five wickets for Tucabia against Coutts Crossing
Brad Chard has struck fear into many batting attacks, but he will need some extra help to crack through the defences of the Lower Clarence brick wall. Adam Hourigan

But this time it will be different, Chard says.

The 25-year-old seamer, who has struck fear into batsmen across the Clarence Valley since he was a teenage tearaway, is ready to bring that onto the local representative stage.

But he has also matured in the past two seasons since taking over the captaincy of GDSC Premier League juggernaut Tucabia-Copmanhurst, and he knows he won't be able to do it alone.

That is why selectors have put together one of the stronger attacks in recent memory, with Rohan Hackett, Nathan Blanch and Jack Weatherstone all vying for the new cherry.

Add off-spinner Andy Kinnane to the mix and the attack has taken a combined 92 wickets in the GDSC Premier League this season at an average of only 12.8.

The side will need all of that wicket-taking ability for the battle against a Lower Clarence batting line-up in a rich vein of form.

 

Westlawn captain Nathan Blanch hits the popping crease at pace during the GDSC Premier League cricket clash between Westlawn and Coutts Crossing at Lower Fisher Park.
Westlawn captain Nathan Blanch has been a destructive force with the ball this GDSC Premier League season and was isntrumental in Westlawn getting first innings victory last weekend finishing with 7-39 off 10.2 overs including a rare double hattrick. Matthew Elkerton

Lower Clarence will be led at the top of the innings by run machines Nathan Ensbey and Harry Bird, who have a combined 795 runs in the North Coast Premier League this season.

Heavy hitter Brandon Honeybrook will join the duo at the top of the order, and after coming off a dominant 151 against the best bowling attack in the Premier League in Sawtell, he is hungry for action.

McMahon said the Lower Clarence side has a simple gameplan that has led them to victory many times in recent seasons.

"We have a lot of Harwood players in this side, and we want to bring our winning mentality from club cricket into the representative game," he said.

"We just want to bat out our overs, Nath and Harry have the ability to bat long periods which gives guys like Bear (Honeybrook) the chance to play his natural game.

"As long as we have wickets at the end of the innings we should be able to push on to a good total."

 

Harwood's Brandon Honeybrook dispatches a six over long on during the Cleaver's Mechanical Night Cricket grand final between Harwood and Brothers at McKittrick Park.
Lower Clarence heavy hitter Brandon 'Bear' Honeybrook is in a rich vein of form after scoring a dominant 151 for Harwood against Sawtell a fortnight ago, and followed it up with 78 not out the following week. Matthew Elkerton

While they have the proverbial runs on the board, McMahon said the side would not be taking Clarence River's attack lightly.

"It is undeniable, they have picked a very strong bowling line-up, and the addition of Chardy to any side is a big one," he said.

"But it is no different to facing any bowling attack, you just need to keep your head while you are out in the middle.

"This is a big occasion for both sides, it is the only representative cricket we will play as Lower Clarence this season, but we can't let that get to us."

 

Lower Clarence have also been buoyed by the late inclusion of Lower Clarence rising star Coby Tabor, who has led the way for Maclean United in first grade this season.

Ironically Clarence River were forced into their own late change midweek after Eli Fahey was ruled out due to prior commitments, but chose to look to the other end of the spectrum, bringing in veteran Matt Pigg.

 

The last time Pigg pulled on the Clarence River shirt was the association's crowning moment when he hit a half-century to hoist the Country Shield at Tamworth in 2014/15.

The clash will be played in a 50-over format with the first ball bowled at 2.30pm.

Bruce Baxter and Rob Pye will officiate the clash and a full canteen will be operational for the night.