MARK Littlewood plans to exorcise a few demons when he leads Newcastle in the northern carnival of the NSW Country cricket championships at Belmont this weekend.
Littlewood was skipper last year for the corresponding event when Newcastle, sent in on a seam-friendly Cahill Oval pitch, were beaten by giant-killers Western Zone, costing the home side a berth in the Country Championships final.
It was Newcastle’s first loss in a NSW Country championships match in eight years, and Littlewood has no desire for a second serve of such disappointment.
‘‘It was a bit of a wake-up call for us, to lose last year,’’ Littlewood said yesterday.
‘‘It might have been a good thing. It’s a motivating factor for us and was probably good for country cricket.
‘‘We’ve been the benchmark in country cricket for a long time now and all the other zones have been trying to hunt us down.
‘‘It worked last year, so it’s up to us to try and be one step ahead this year.
‘‘But the boys have been training hard, we’ve got a good team, and we’re feeling confident.’’
Littlewood said last year’s defeat was a reminder there was little room for error during the three-day tournament, in which Newcastle will play Central Coast tomorrow, North Coastal on Saturday and Central North on Sunday. ‘‘That’s the nature of this carnival. You really can’t afford to have a bad match or a bad half-hour,’’ he said.
‘‘You have to be on your game for the whole three days . . . there’s plenty of talent around rural NSW, so there’s always some challenges.’’
If Newcastle finish on top of the northern group, they will face their nemesis from last season, Western Zone, in the championship decider at Wade Park, Orange, on Sunday week.
Western won the southern pool last weekend with a clean sweep of Southern Zone, Riverina and Wollongong.
Newcastle’s 13-man squad features a blend of youth and experience, from teenage leg-spinner Ben Evans to veteran run machine Simon Moore.
Littlewood was sure selectors had covered all bases.
‘‘It’s a strong side, well balanced,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ve got a good mix of all-rounders in there and good variety in the attack.
‘‘I think it’s a pretty good-looking side on paper and we just have to get down to doing the business.’’