OTLEY'S decision to persuade James Davies to rejoin them last season could turn out to be the masterstroke that brings the Aire-Wharfe League championship to Cross Green for the first time since 1993.
Always contenders – since their eighth place in 2007, they have not been out of the top six – Otley have found it hard to cross the finishing line in front to clinch what would be a record 14th title.
Their best recent effort was last year’s third place after Davies returned to his home club from Bradford & Bingley to score 623 runs and take 44 wickets, including a record-equalling 10-15 in a match against Bilton – the side Otley face tomorrow.
With a third of the season to go, he is again approaching the 500-run mark and recently picked up 5-22 against Guiseley as Otley have opened up an 11-point gap over Burley.
Bilton, however, cannot be taken lightly. They are in third place a further 12 points back.
With Kirkstall looking too inconsistent to mount a challenge, the only other threat is defending champions Beckwithshaw, who, after a dreadful start to the season, are looking back to their menacing best.
Burley should maintain their challenge at Guiseley, who have gone off the boil in recent weeks, while Steeton could do the rest a favour by ending Beckwithshaw’s four-match winning streak, and Ilkley could well upset Kirkstall.
At the other end of the table, it will be a major surprise if Ben Rhydding beat a Collingham side still buoyant after reaching the Waddilove Cup final, but Rawdon could climb out of the bottom two if they beat Pool – the team immediately above them in the table.
In Division Two, Green Lane face one of their crunch games of the season when they entertain North Leeds. Victory will reduce the gap on their second-placed rivals while defeat will all but end Lane’s hopes of a promotion place.
In the scrap to avoid relegation, the bottom two, Bolton Villas and Thackley, meet. Third-from-bottom Upper Wharfedale have a tricky trip to Adel, while the two sides just above them, Harden and Skipton, go head to head. Tong Park Esholt are not completely safe and have a tough match at leaders Follifoot.
With only one defeat all season, Horsforth look too strong for Olicanian and should continue what looks like an inevitable promotion from Division Three.
Two defeats in a row have dented Calverley’s chances of joining them and they can afford no slip-ups at Menston.
Addingham look set to deny Woodhouse a first win of the season, while Silsden and Hall Park, two sides who have occasionally promised more than they have delivered, should provide good entertainment when they face each other.