THEY were the biggest recruits to Ballarat cricket for a long time when they signed for this season.
Now, as anticipated by the region’s intrigued cricket following, Brown Hill’s Shane Harwood and Mount Clear’s Nathan Yates will lead their teams into battle for the Ballarat Cricket Association club firsts final.
Yates, a dual EJ Cleary medallist and former East Ballarat captain, made a second comeback from Geelong cricket club Lara as captain-coach of the Mounties.
It is a team with a lot of depth, helped by solid recruiting in the summer, and will enter the final undefeated and as clear flag favourite.
Homegrown hero Harwood, also a Cleary medallist who was this week named in the all-time Cleary winners’ team, fulfilled a promised in returning to the Bulls this season.
The retired Australian quick always maintained he would return to play at his junior club.
While Harwood visited often, helping most Bulls bowler including now-captain Jason Knowles with technique, his long-standing declaration finally came to fruition.
His mentoring has guided the Bulls to the grand final.
His international experience will give the Bulls added bite.
“He’ll play a huge part in the final, just having his experience around the group,” Knowles said. “He’s good with our younger players, helping to get rid of nerves.”
Harwood is not the only Bull with experience on the big stage.
Former captain Ryan Knowles, a seasoned all-rounder, tasted BCA premiership glory with Ballarat-Redan in 2006-07.
Long-time Bulls Dean Ferris’s and Paul White’s careers date back to the Bulls’ glory days back in the 2000s.
The Mounties leaders also know what it takes to win grand finals.
Yates played in premierships with East Ballarat and Lara while fellow all-rounder Dan Hopkinson, the 2002-03 EJ Cleary medallist, co-captained North Ballarat’s firsts flag that same season – and took 5-51 in the final against Napoleons-Sebastopol.
Long-serving Mountie Paull Jeffrey coached the Mounties’ 2007-08 premiership, with Darren Fletcher as his captain.
Yates said there was a wealth of big-game experience in the team that would set them in good stead.
“A lot have played in a premiership before and a couple haven’t played finals until this season and are really excited – we have a good mix,” Yates said.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge.
“(Bull) Shane Harwood is a class bowler but the good thing is we’ve got a few players that have been around for a while and have that bit of experience against tough players like him.”
Ballarat’s cricket fans can agree: the big name roll-call in both teams can only make for a blockbuster showdown.