THEY were the team who couldn’t win a game and feared for their survival in the Newcastle District Cricket Association.
Now, for the first time in 52 years, Wests are the top-grade champions after downing Merewether in a tense premiership decider at No.1 Sportsground on Friday.
CHAMPIONS: Wests players celebrate. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
Defending the score of 210 they posted last Sunday, the Rosellas restricted Merewether to 185 to win their first two-day title since 1965-66, when they were known as Lambton-New Lambton.
They also beat the Lions in the Tom Locker (50-over) Cup earlier in the season.
Yet it was only seven years ago that NDCA officials wereexploring the option of reducing the competitionfrom 12 teams to 10, either through mergers orexpulsion.
Wests, who endured two seasons as first-grade wooden spooners and did not win a game in that time, were logical candidates for the axe.
“Seven or eight years ago, we had a captain in first grade who was the only player in the team who couldn’t play under-21s,” long-serving Wests president Terry Morgan said.
“They were a very young and inexperienced side, and they did struggle.
“It just goes to show that with good sponsorship, a strong committee, great volunteers and a group of young men who are willing to put in, you can turn anything around and achieve what you want to achieve.”
The revival started in 2011-12, when Wests enticed former NSW Second XI all-rounder Ben Woolmer out of a short-lived retirement.
They finished last in his first season at the helm, then sixth a year later. In his third campaign, their top three teams made their premiership deciders and Wests finished runners-up to Merewether in the firstgrade.
Along the way, players like toweringfast bowlerPeter Lojszczyk and wicket-keeper Andrew Shakespeare, both born and raised within walking distance of Harker Oval, learned how to win.
Lojszczyk, who took 2-43 from 19 overs in Friday’s final, admitted he and Sharkespeare had “seen some real bad days” during their formative seasons in first grade.
“I think we started when we were 16, and we didn’t have a win until I was 18,” he said. “It was probably close to two seasons. This is awesome. For all the old boys who’ve come to support us, it means so much to them.
“We’re Wests juniors, and we’ve never played for any other club, so I think it means that little bit more.”
Shakespeare, one of the team’s unsung heroes, admitted it was hard to believe how far Wests had come since he first joined them.
“From where we were then, to where we are now, at one stage I wouldn’t have thought we could do it,” he said.
“I can’t explain it, really.It was probably Benny Woolmer who turned us around. We’ve still got a core group of players from that team.
“He brought us together and showed us how first-grade cricket should be played. Even though we weren’t immediately successful, we were working towards it.”
Wests skipper James King, named man-of-the-match after his inspiring 93 not out last week, said winning a premiership was a fittingreward for Shakespeare andLojszczyk.
“It is unbelievable for us to be able to win it for them,” Kingsaid.
“They stuck through it. It is a credit to the club as well.We weren’t winning games back then, but people were still hanging around and still enjoying being at the club.
“Now people are enjoying it and we are winning games.”
Morgan said the victory“means everything to a group of young men who, a bit over five years ago, didn’t win a game throughout a whole season.
“They’ve stuck together.
“They’ve committed to themselves. They’re good mates, and they’ve produced results today.
“For our club andsponsors, 52 years since our last final win, it’s been an enormous effort.Hopefully it’s the start of better things to come.”