Merewether all-rounder Pat Darwen showed why he was considered the best signing of last summer in Newcastle district cricket when he scored a run-a-ball 101 against University on Saturday.
The entertaining innings took the Lions to a strong position of 7-300 before bad light cut the day’s play five overs short at University No1 Oval.
Sea Dragons captain Josh Emerton sent the Lions in on a slow wicket and with a short square-of-the-wicket boundary.
Darwen strode to the crease with a licence to play his shots after the top three of David Celep (40), Jono Dunn (47) and captain Simon Moore (46) built a strong platform.
The former Bankstown batsman dispatched his first two balls to the boundary and continued in that vein as he smashed 11 fours and two sixes in his third century for the Lions.
At the start of last summer Darwen captured the headlines due to his stint with the Australian under-19 team in 2005.
That hype has since moved to former NSW fast bowler Mark Cameron, who has also joined the Lions.
‘‘Coming to a new club, the first half of the season is about finding your feet, but now I can relax into it. It’s great having Scud [Cameron] to take the pressure off me,’’ Darwen said.
The NSW Country representative made two centuries last season against Wallsend, including 113 in the two-day final.
Merewether won the premiership trifecta last season and their dominant display against Uni’s strong bowling arsenal sent a warning to their rivals.
‘‘We’ve all made a really conscious effort to step up our game because we know everyone is going to be hunting for us this year, considering we won everything last year,’’ Darwen said.
‘‘We need to be a better side than last year to win it again.
‘‘The boys have stepped up to that challenge so far, so it’s really fantastic.’’
Former Wallsend batsman Joe Clarke (62) continued his fine form since switching to Stockton-Raymond Terrace by guiding the Seagulls to first-innings points against Western Suburbs (99) at Lynn Oval.
Stockton were dismissed for 124 in 46 overs with Wests’ Todd Griffith taking 5-16 off eight overs.
Clarke came to the crease at 4-44 and formed a 75-run partnership with Michael Ridgewell (21).
It followed Clarke’s 49 on debut for Stockton against University last week.
The Rosellas were cruising to a first-innings lead at 2-62 before Stockton’s Ben West (4-24) and captain Nick Foster (3-45) destroyed the Wests’ batting order.
At stumps, the Seagulls were 0-10 in their second innings.
Wallsend appear set to claim first-innings points at Kahibah Oval with Charlestown reeling at 8-112 in reply to the Tigers’ 156.
Tigers skipper Brett Jackson (46) again led from the front. Jackson was dismissed at 9-112, but a late flourish of 34 from wicketkeeper Josh Forsyth could be decisive.
Only Jed Dickson (39) made a start for the Magpies as Wallsend openers Matthew Wicks (3-23) and Dan McGovern (3-31) did the damage.
Hamilton-Wickham’s Ben Balcomb (56) top-scored in only his second first-grade match in a total of 9-297 (dec) against Toronto at Ron Hill Oval.
The Kookaburras are 0-49 in reply.
Newcastle City are well placed to take first-innings points over Waratah-Mayfield. City will resume at 2-91 on Saturday in reply to the Tahs’ 117.
City opener Dylan Hunter starred with 62.
Marcus Hainsworth and Mark Jones both made half-centuries in Belmont’s 234 against Cardiff-Boolaroo (1-24) at Cardiff Oval.
Stockton wicketkeeper Jeff Goninan reacts after Wests batsman Anthony Hobson is run out. Picture: Peter Stoop