HESLERTON begin their Readers Scarborough Beckett League season on Saturday as probable favourites to retain their premier division crown - but rivals are queuing up to knock them off their perch.

Heslerton won the league by 40 points in 2013 and have added to their ranks by signing Aussie Michael Dawson - their third overseas player in recent years to arrive from the Hillgrove club in New South Wales - and Rob Middlewood, a promising batsman recruited from Bridlington.

Jake Keyworth has also returned to the club from Leeds outfit Horsforth.

With Anthony Stones as skipper, Alex Carrie opening the batting and a formidable pace attack comprising Adam Spaven, who was the league's leading wicket-taker last year with 54 victims, Kristian Wilkisnon and Andy Slaughter, Heslerton will go into the season full of confidence.

Staxton were runners-up last term and will hope to go one better under skipper Nick Gibson, the ace run-getter, especially after re-signing Dan Bulman, after a year down under, and Paul Witty, after a spell with York & District Senior League club Pickering.

Chris Dove could also be important with the bat, while Andrew Holtby and spinner Elliott Cooper could be key with the ball.

Forge Valley, who have last year's top run-maker Tom Brough taking over as captain, should again be in the mix, while Kirkbymoorside and Ebberston will hope to add to the Ryedale challenge for honours.

The Moorsiders will be led by Dan Jeminson, with former captain Dave Gardner likely to provide the bulk of their runs. They will be hoping for big things from new South African Jacques Budricks.

Ebberston, led by Matty Turnbull, one of the league's best all-rounders, have acquired Ian Atkinson from Brompton, who could well open the bowling, and Ben Lealman from Pickering, a leading young batsman in the area.

Settrington will be relying on the Rounthwaite clan as they seek promotion from division 'A' - dad Jonty and sons Eddie, Charlie and George - as well as Andy Monkman, their main spearhead with the ball, and batter Andy Morley.

Sherburn, led this year by Jordan Wharton, and Nawton Grange, with Jonny Pickard as captain, will be hoping to be near the top too.

Thornton-le-Dale, new to division 'B', will be eyeing back-to-back promotions. They have bolstered their ranks by signing bowler Lee Oliver from Staithes, whose second team have pulled out of division 'C'.

Ganton went up with Thornton last year and will again by looking to Stu Ward and Alastair limb for inspiration, the pair having scored 1,300 runs between them in 2013.

Mulgrave are also new to division 'B', having been put straight into that tier following promotion from the Derwent Valley League.

Division 'C' is down to eight team after Staithes' exit but extra fixtures have been added to maintain an 18-match campaign.

Ebberston II and Heslerton II, with Matthew Webster back in the ranks after a year with Ebberston and Jim Ireland making the same move, will be targeting a promotion challenge.