Liberal A will set out this week to become the first side for nearly 30 years to win the Braintree Table Tennis League for more than three times in succession.
They will again be spearheaded by Brandon Crouchman, top of the individual averages for the past two seasons, and Simon Webber, whose form jumped up a notch last season when he won 59 of his 70 singles.
Scott Dowsett is still recuperating after a second knee operation but is expected to be able to play in a few weeks.
In the meantime they can again turn to Peter Hayden, whose chronic wrist injury is again likely to limit the number of his appearances.
Rayne A, who finished 22 points behind last season, have promoted Lee McHugh to the first team.
McHugh had an average of 76 per cent last season and reached the men’s singles semi-final. He will join Alan Burgess, Adam Buxton and Steve Pennell in a team that will be hoping to mount a stronger challenge for the title, which they last won in 2005.
Only Pennell remains from that team, which also included Dean Andrews, Steve Elmes and Ian Whiteside.
Whiteside will again be in Rayne’s B team, who finished below Netts’ A and B teams last season and may well do again this year but much depends on which of the galaxy of players turn out for Netts.
They have registered six players for both the A and B teams, with men’s singles champion Paul Davison in the B team and expected to play only around 25 per cent of his team’s matches.
The A team will again have Andy Holmes, Antonio Beckles and Rob Wood, plus James Hicks, Steve Buer and Chris Buer all promoted from the B team.
The B team will be led by Fred Evans, who was a member of the Colne A team that won the title five times in a row from 1987 to 1991, the last team to win it more than three times in succession.
He played very little after that before making his comeback in division two 12 months ago.
He will be joined by Davison, new signing Graham Playle, a Harlow premier division player, Maria Boulton, Gary Cattermole and Colin Bennett.
Rayne have dropped a team, which means a reprieve for their D team, who found life tough after promotion the previous year.
They are likely to be joined in the relegation battle by division two winners Black Notley B and also by Notley’s A team who may find life less comfortable after losing Lucy Wang.
But the return of four times men’s singles champion Steve Kerns, albeit only for a handful of matches, should enable them to keep their heads above water.
No teams were relegated from either division one or two, which means that the battle for promotion from divisions two and three could be more open.
It is common for relegated teams to jump straight back, as Felsted C did last season, but Rayne D (now C) have retained their position in division one after the club amalgamated their B and C teams while the members of Netts C, bottom of division two, have all decided to take a break from the game.
Logic suggests therefore that the teams in second place last season could make the running this year and Liberal C in division two look well placed to do that. If they can regularly turn out Garry Fryatt, Gareth Davies and Jon Fieldsend, their three busiest players last season, they will be difficult to beat.
But they could face a challenge from the new Netts D team.
Joe Meleschko remains from last year’s E team and will be joined by Chelmsford and Southend League player Jan Fuller, the returning Patrick Gilbert and Roy Hooper, out of action since Sible Hedingham’s demise at the end of the 2017 season.
Another former Hedingham player, Richard Jennings, is named in the Rayne E squad alongside last year’s regulars Dean Andrews, Nick Hasler, Richard Whiteside and Kelly Yuenyongpknan, who finished just nine points adrift of Liberal C.
In division three, Rayne F, who finished second as Rayne H, have added Dave Allinson from the defunct G team (Steve Siggs is in division one and Steve Willis is listed only as a reserve), a move that can only strengthen their chances.
None of the other teams have the strength in depth but there are some interesting names.
Peter Pond, who played at a high level in the Southend and Brentwood leagues, has joined Black Notley I and is unlikely to lose many.
James Gronland, a contemporary of men’s singles champion Paul Davison in Colne’s junior ranks in the early 1990s, has, like Pond, recently moved to the area and is in Notley’s F team.
Clive Forster, whose Braintree career ended when Feering disbanded some years ago, is in the Netts E squad and he too will not lose many at this level.
There are also some younger names to look out for.
Reigning girls’ singles champion Zara D’Arcy Willis is making her debut at league level for Netts F, as is the 2017 winner Mia Charles.
Boys’ singles winner Elliott Game is making his debut for Notley I, moving over from Notley’s Chelmsford Click League side, where he played alongside Jonny Evans, the cadets’ singles champion, who is in the Notley H ranks.
And Rayne I will feature an entire set of new faces, Scott Whiteside, Dean Bass, Alex Morgan and Connor Randall.