VETERAN all-rounder Craig Howard will continue as captain of Sandhurst, but has relinquished the Dragons’ coaching duties ahead of the 2017-18 Bendigo District Cricket Association season.
Another of the Dragons’ all-rounders, Taylor Beard, has taken over as coach for what will be his second season at the club.
Howard has coached the Dragons for the past four seasons since making the move from Strathdale-Maristians to Weeroona Oval in what was a coup for the club.
“I probably can’t commit the time that I need to from a training point of view to continue as coach, and we’ve also been waiting for someone to come along who can help move the club forward and Beardy is certainly that man,” Howard said on Thursday.
“Beardy has the competitive spirit and drive that you want from a leader and the respect of the players.”
Beard joined Sandhurst last season from Echuca and won the Dragons’ Noel Turner Memorial best and fairest award, finishing one vote ahead of Howard.
Beard made 300 runs at an average of 27.7 and took 23 wickets for the Dragons last season, while he was Bendigo’s leading run-scorer at Melbourne Country Week with 180 at an average of 60, which included making a century against Warrnambool.
While he wasn’t able to get the Dragons, who finished fifth last season, into the first XI finals, Howard reflects positively on his four years as coach of the club.
“We’re pleased with the direction we’re heading, particularly with the young players we’ve got at the club,” Howard said.
The Dragons have added to their list with the signing of Moama teenager Todd Murphy, who was captain of Northern Rivers’ under-16 team last season.
A top-order batsman and off-spinner, Murphy made an A-grace century for Moama in the Goulburn Murray competition earlier this year.
Darby Semmens – a former Central Highlands representative captain – will also step up to play first XI with the Dragons after winning the club’s under-18 batting average last season.
“With the likes of Todd, Darby, Manning Walsh, Will Keck, Will Gadsden and Nick Gladman, we think our crop of youngsters are second-to-none,” said Howard, who in four seasons with the Dragons has made 1762 runs and taken 115 wickets.
“To have Todd and Darby as two of the most talented young players out of our area come and play for us is a good sign for the club.
“We expect we’ll have a lot more depth and pressure coming from underneath. The second XI finished well last season in winning four of their last five games and the under-18s made the grand final.
“We think a really positive path has been set going forward.”
Also joining the Dragons is the hard-hitting Ash Gray, who played with Golden Gully in the Emu Valley Cricket Association last season and has previously played in the BDCA with Huntly-North Epsom.
However, Englishman Zen Malik won’t be returning for a second season.
Malik joined the Dragons with big wraps having previously represented the England under-19 team, but his season never got out of first gear in making 215 runs at an average of 19.5.