AFTER Joe Price broke the Illawarra's hearts in the 2013 Country Championships final, the last thing Jamie Fleming wanted to see on Sunday was another Price walk out to the middle.
He may not be related to Joe, but Nathan Price was the hero for Newcastle in this year's Country Championships final, the top-order batsman producing a sublime 113* to lead his side to a five-wicket victory at Keira Oval. The reigning Newcastle player of the year, Price is one of the most well-regarded batsman in NSW country cricket and Fleming said it was clear he was a class above the competition.
"It's always disappointing to lose a final," Fleming said. "I'm a winner, I pride myself on winning, unfortunately today we lost to the better team. We just weren't good enough. Nathan is a standard above, he didn't give us a chance. I've played a lot of cricket against him and spent many hours wondering how to get him out. If we get him out, it's a different game, he held their innings together."
Price's innings came after Greater Illawarra, featuring Batemans Bay product Rhys Voyset, were bowled out for 221, Adam Berwick and Mitchell Hearn the only batsmen to provide much resistance. Berwick was outstanding at the crease, scoring his second century in as many days, after he also reached triple figures in Balgownie's win over Port Kembla on Saturday, while Hearn produced an impressive 51 to help Greater Illawarra rebuild after a middle-order collapse. While disappointed, Fleming was proud of his team's performances throughout the entire Country campaign and he vowed to return next year with a squad capable of going one better.
"Newcastle were a step up to what we played in Goulburn. We had four players out through injury, many people didn't give us a chance. With all those injuries and how we performed, we can use this as a stepping stone to potentially go one better next year."
This year's Country Championships success came after a lean few years for the region, with Illawarra's last final in 2013. Fleming lamented the fact many of the Zone's best cricketers opt not to play in the key representative tournament and said he's hopeful this year's performance will inspire some of those players to reconsider in future years.