NEW West Warrnambool captain Ben Dobson says the rise of two teenage tearaways will make the reigning premier stronger this cricket season.
Dobson has hinted at big things from pacemen Will Mills and Tom Smith as the Panthers seek to defend their breakthrough top-grade flag.
West defeated Nestles in the 2011-12 Warrnambool and District Cricket Association grand final, rolling the Factory for just 58 to successfully defend 131.
The teenage strike bowlers, who also played under 17s, had major roles throughout the successful campaign.
Mills took 14 wickets at 13.14 in seven division one matches after Christmas, while Smith snared nine at 15.89 from seven matches.
Dobson, who has taken the reins from Andrew Robb, said the pair had impressed at pre-season training.
“Tom Smith has already picked up a couple of yards (after) getting bigger, stronger,” he said.”
“And Will Mills, he’s just growing up, which is good for the club and good for their progress.”
Dobson said their improvement and the returns of Anton Lucas and Anthony Hawken meant West would be a stronger side.
Lucas played one match last season before suffering an Achilles injury, while Hawken lined up just four times due to work commitments.
But the departure of Robb will leave a gap in the batting order.
“Tom and Will have got quicker and they’ll be better for the experience,” Dobson said. “Everyone is going to have to step up a bit with Andrew obviously not being involved. We’ll try and keep as many structures in place that he had.”
Dobson’s verdict comes as an ominous warning for the rest of the competition ahead of round one of the WDCA season tomorrow.
West opens its campaign against Brierly-Christ Church on the hard-wicket oval at Brierly Recreation Reserve.
The Panthers, who ended a 22-year division one flag drought last season, are again the hot favourites among rival captains and coaches.
Dobson admitted there was “a lot of upside at West at the minute”.
“(President) Kade Hancock and all the committee have put a lot of time into the juniors up at West,” he said.
“In last year’s grand final, I was the only player in the grand final team that had played for another club.
“That showed that everyone who has come up at West is loyal to West.”