Woodlands skipper Pieter Swanepoel expects the bar to be raised in the JCT600 Bradford League as the season gets underway tomorrow.
The leading contenders have strengthened well over the winter and competition promises to be stronger than ever as Cleckheaton bid to defend their crown for the first time.
The champions – who have signed Pakistani overseas player Tanzeel Altaf – are likely to be pushed hard by the likes of Woodlands, Hanging Heaton and Pudsey St Lawrence.
Swanepoel’s side have snapped up batsmen Duncan Snell, from York, and England-born Aussie Logan Weston, from the Liverpool ECB Premier League.
They host Hanging Heaton in the opening match tomorrow, whose signings include Aussie Nick Connolly, from Methley, and David Paynter, from Morley.
The Woodlands captain said: “I think it will be a better league all round this season, not just because clubs have recruited well from other leagues, but good players within the league have joined strong clubs.
“I know it’s been said before, but anyone can beat anyone. Competition is really strong and that’s what you want.”
Pudsey St Lawrence, who have signed Richie Lamb from neighbours Congs, are his favourites for the title after finishing last season in second place.
Swanepoel said: “They had a strong team last year and I just have that feeling that the momentum is swinging their way.
“Cleckheaton have recruited strongly and Hanging Heaton are the dark horses. They are something of a sleeping giant.”
The experienced bowler is not ruling out his own side’s chances of getting their hands back on the crown they won in 2012.
But he believes they need to improve, saying: “The last couple of seasons we’ve been inconsistent. We need to have patience and be more disciplined.”
With batsman Adam Goldthorpe also returning from a spell out of the game and all-rounder Chris Brice back after injury, Swanepoel added: “All in all, we have strengthened our batting and added a bit of variety to our bowling.
“We are also a bit more agile in the field, which was an area that has let us down.”
Snell arrives with a glowing reputation, having scored more than 10,000 runs for York, who have won seven consecutive Yorkshire ECB County Premier League titles.
Swanepoel, who has played in that league himself, believes the batsman can do well but warned he will have to adapt to more difficult wickets and a more competitive environment.
He said: “I don’t think he will find it as easy. I’m not saying the Yorkshire League is easy but there is a real intensity to the Bradford League. He will know he’s been in a game.”
Snell left Clifton Park to test himself in the Bradford League and Swanepoel said: “I’m all for that.
“It shows what a quality player he is.
“He could have stayed with York, relaxed and got a load more runs but he wants a new challenge.”
Tomorrow’s other big encounter sees Cleckheaton visit 2010 title winners Pudsey Congs, while New Farnley’s first ever game in the top flight is at home to Morley.
Last season’s Division Two champions Farsley – now with former Yorkshire batsman Joe Sayers in their ranks – host Bradford & Bingley.
Division One: East Bierley v Lightcliffe, Farsley v Bradford & Bingley, New Farnley v Morley, Pudsey Congs v Cleckheaton, Woodlands v Hanging Heaton, Yeadon v Pudsey St Lawrence.
Division Two: Bankfoot v Idle, Bowling Old Lane v Spen Victoria, Gomersal v Keighley, Great Horton v Baildon, Hartshead Moor v Windhill, Undercliffe v Brighouse.