Joe Price was a last-minute replacement for Newcastle in the 2013 NSW Country Championship final.
He hasn’t looked back since.
The 33-year-old Adamstown all-rounder, now a mainstay in the representative ranks, arrives at this month’s same decider in formidable touch.
Fresh from Sunday’s match-winning unbeaten ton at Inverell, Price has scored 524 runs from 10 trips to the middle this season, averaging 74.86 and only once failing to reach double figures.
Most of those have been made for club side Wests – leading the first grade competition charge with 232, including three half-centuries and almost single-handedly securing the Rosellas a place in this Sunday’s Tom Locker Cup showdown against Merewether at No.1 Sportsground.
The rest have been piled on for Newcastle across three different tournaments – 33 in the Regional Bash, 66 in the opening round of Sydney Premier T20 Cup and most recently 193 in the pool stages of the NSW Country Championships.
But all of them in the space of six weekends.
Newcastle coach Shane Burley said Price’s “purple patch” wasn’t unexpected and had been produced when it mattered most.
“He’s in good form,” Burley said.
“He’s been like that for a couple of years for us and he’s done really well under pressure as well.
“A couple of years ago he come into the side just for the final and got us home, then he got a hundred against Western in the one we lost and again, on the weekend, when 5-50 he was great and got the job done.
“That’s a big focus of ours, standing up when it’s tough, and he does that.”
The 2008-2009 Newcastle first grade player of the year started his senior career at Hamilton-Wickham and has since spent time at Stockton, Toronto and now Wests. There were also stints in Sydney and Adelaide.
Price, also a right-arm paceman who has previously topped the district bowling charts, earned a Bush Blues cap the last two summers.
Burley said a third crack at the Australian Country Championships, hosted in the west by Geraldton in January (5-13), would be a deserved reward for Price.
“He’s always been that sort of player, when it’s his day he’s hard to bowl to,” Burley said.
“But every day is his day at the moment. He’s really switched on, keen and loves his cricket. He told me the other weekend how much he loves playing for Newcastle, which is great.”
Newcastle meet the winner of this weekend’s southern-pool encounters in the state decider at Bowral’s Bradman Oval on November 26.
In the meantime Newcastle host Eastern Suburbs and Manly-Warringah for a double header of NSW Premier T20 Cup at No.1 Sportsground on November 19. The last round is away to Sutherland at Glenn McGrath Oval on December 3.
Completing the 2017-2018 calendar for Newcastle will be the Regional Bash play-offs at the SCG on December 10.