MEREWETHER'S grip on next season's Newcastle first-grade cricket title has strengthened with the signing of former Wallsend captain David Celep.
Celep quit the Tigers in June after the club's board opted to strip him of the captaincy and hand the role to batsman Brett Jackson.
Since the decision, Wallsend have also lost batsmen Joe Curk (University), Aaron Wivell (Western Suburbs) and Joe Clarke (Stockton-Raymond Terrace) and all-rounder Paul Coleman (Cardiff-Boolaroo).
Merewether were the competition benchmark last summer, winning the two-day, 50-over and Twenty20 trifecta and they reached the SCG Country Cup final, which they lost to Queanbeyan.
The Lions secured the biggest signing in recent Newcastle district cricket history in May when they lured former Australia A and NSW fast bowler Mark Cameron.
Celep said his friendship with Merewether captain Simon Moore and other senior players was the deciding factor in his move to Townson Oval.
"It was important that whatever club I went to I was going to play a similar style of cricket to what that club does," Celep said.
"Merewether play a hard brand of cricket, which is important.
"It was also important to have a solid administration after what I went through and Merewether always appeared strong in that area."
The 35-year-old said he was attracted to the family atmosphere of the Lions.
Several other Newcastle clubs expressed interest in the right-handed batsman and there will probably be criticism from some quarters about Celep strengthening the competition's powerhouse even further.
"I didn't want to go to a club and start it from the ground up, because I'm 35 years old and I have a business, so I have a lot of things in my life at this stage," he said.
"It'll be nice just to turn up and play cricket and try to contribute."
Last summer Celep led Wallsend to the grand final against Merewether and he admitted it would be strange when he took guard to face his first ball from Wallsend - a club he played at for two decades.
"It's something that's happened and I've got to move forward with it and once I walk on the park everything goes out of my head anyway, so I'll be focusing on each ball that's bowled," he said.
Securing a permanent spot in the Lions' star-studded batting order will not be easy.
Moore (704), Troy Goodwin (550), Josh Geary (536), Pat Darwen (408) and Sam Gilmour (317) all scored more runs last year than Celep (287).
"It's all about performing," Celep said. "If I play good cricket, I don't think that will be an issue."