THE MURWILLUMBAH Cricket Club faces a "baptism of fire” in their long awaited return to the Far North Cricket Council's top flight.
Approved for a return to the LJ Hooker League for the 2017/18 season after exiting in 2013, the Panthers face a tough task in the opening of the league's Two Day competition against Ballina at Rabjones Oval today.
Hosting a Bears side who narrowly missed the finals last year, Panthers president Steve Twohill said the side was expecting to be competitive, but was firmly focused on the long term.
"Ballina will be pretty strong, it's a baptism of fire, but you have to jump in at some stage,” Twohill said.
"We just have to get in there and have a crack and look at the long term view, as that's what it's about.
"We're looking forward to the challenge.”
That long term view is structured on building a platform for the future for young players to progress through to senior ranks.
Assembling enough players to field four senior sides across the FNCC's four competitions, Twohill said the club was confident it had built a strong base for sustained success.
"We've traditionally lost players to other clubs, so we've been working towards this point for a long time,” he said.
"Once they're gone it's hard to get them back.
"So we haven't really tried to recruit, we've just encouraged locals to come back or sign up and build a platform for local kids (to progress).
"So if they're looking to play senior cricket in the future, those kids can now look to us as an inspiration.”
In a major coup, the Panthers have secured highly regarded coach and former NSW state player, Grant Parmenter, who'll take the reins as the head coach.
On the field, the LJ Hooker League squad has been strengthened by the addition of former Gold Coast Dolphin Vinnie Quigley and former Helensvale grade cricketer Josh Mitchell.
Batting all-rounder Quigley and highly-regarded bowler Mitchell will add depth to what will be a younger squad.
"We're short probably two or three quality players to match the Cudgens and Ballinas, but we'll be competitive in lots of sessions and games,” Twohill said.
"It's a development year, and with Grant (Parmenter) on board, we'll develop good habits and culture.”
The game will get under way at 1pm on Saturday.
In other games, Pottsville hosts Lennox Head at Seabreeze Oval, Marist Brothers hosts Casino at Neilson Park, Tintenbar- East Ballina hosts Cudgen at Kingsford Smith South, and 2016/17 premiers Alstonville have the bye.