As usual, the weather will have the ultimate say if season 2017-18 actually gets underway this morning, but there is a real sense of optimism for both Wanganui club and representative cricket.

The-now established Bullocks Coastal Challenge Cup between the Wanganui and Horowhenua-Kapiti clubs has been moved to the start of the season, being played from today through until January, rather than beginning after the New Year.

In addition, the competition has expanded to nine teams with the Wanganui Collegiate 1st XI under coach Warren Marr able to commit to the nine rounds, including a bye week plus playoffs.

Inclusion was important for Marr, who will use the best schoolboys available to fill in the current gaps for the Treadwell Gordon Wanganui representative squad - starting with the 50-over Chapple Cup competition between the Central Districts next weekend.

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"We definitely wanted to be in [Coastal Challenge], because Premier 2, we were too good for our lads," said Marr.

"For me as rep coach, the higher quality of club [competition], the step up to Hawke Cup is not as big.

Naming the first representative team on Tuesday, Wanganui will not have the services of allrounders Craig Clare and Nick Harding, still playing rugby in the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship, while other regulars have yet to return home from university.

"Six guys will be 16 years or under," said Marr.

"That's where the experienced heads like Mark Fraser and Simon Badger will have to step up."

In addition, next weekend is the only time Central Districts professional Ben Smith is guaranteed to be available for Wanganui duties.

Using the limited resources they had available last summer, Wanganui had a surprisingly strong representative season - finishing third in the regional Hawke Cup group after only one outright defeat to winners Hawke's Bay, while getting an outright win themselves over Horowhenua-Kapiti and a memorable first innings points victory over Manawatu.

"There's certainly a confidence in the group, with the realisation it's going to be harder this year," said Marr.

"It's like that second year syndrome. There will be expectation from the Whanganui cricket public and the other teams.

"It's not easy because we're got Taranaki and Manawatu in the first games.

"Manawatu are going to be a lot stronger by the sounds of it with the guys they're bringing in."

Marr will welcome back talented Canadian Akash Gill after the young man had an MVP season in the Coastal Challenge last summer for St John's Tech.

As he promised, Akash Gill has come back to Whanganui for another off-season from his home in Canada.
As he promised, Akash Gill has come back to Whanganui for another off-season from his home in Canada.

Should the club season start today, Collegiate will play their opening match with big brothers Marist - the two sides being well connected as three Year 13 schoolboys will move over to the club in January after they finish secondary school.

There will also be a rematch of the 2016-17 final as champions Paraparaumu CC host Property Brokers United at Te Atiawa Park.

"Unfortunately we don't have everybody on board yet," said senior player Gerard Hobbs.

"We got a lot still working, and then a 21st."

This mirrors last season where United were hot favourites for the final until losing three veterans to injury and other commitments, on top of their already departed university players, and were narrowly beaten by 26 runs.

Hobbs said the rescheduling of Coastal Challenge to the start and middle of the season will allow them to have their strongest team after these early rounds, which are tough with a bye sandwiched in between two away games.

"I think it helps everybody, to be fair.

"This is our premier competition, so make sure everyone's available.

"We could make excuses [for last summer], but we've got a good side and we're going to go one better."

Talented university players like Ryan Slight and Matthew Boswell will return, while United will again have transplanted Englishman Greg Smith and another import in batsman Freddie Wilson, as well as James Pennefather stepping up fulltime from the 2nd XI.

In women's cricket, the Anndion Lodge Wanganui team will play a full representative season under skipper Jessica Watkin and coach Dilan Raj, with five rounds of the 40-over Mike Shrimpton Trophy competition.