Former Cowra cricketer Daniel Hughes has secured a contract with the NSW SpeedBlitz Blues for 2012/13.
Announced last week, Hughes, 23, is one of seven new faces offered full contracts for the first time in their careers.
Hughes impressed for the NSW Second XI last season, scoring a century against the Victorian Second XI and made 541 runs at 33.81 in Grade cricket for North Sydney.
In Cowra last weekend seeing family and friends, Hughes ventured to the River Park nets, the scene of many hours of practice, and is understandably animated about the newest stage in his career.
“It’s fantastic, I’m really excited and very keen to get stuck into pre-season training and work hard,” he said.
Making the sacrifice of moving to Sydney away from friends and family about five years ago, Hughes spent the first six months sleeping on a couch, has come back from shoulder and knee surgery and is now full time with the NSW squad training from 9am-4pm every day.
“I wanted to test myself against the best in Sydney Grade cricket and see how I went,” he said.
“I spent a couple of years in second grade, the next three years in first grade, worked hard and gradually got better and better and now I find myself in the NSW squad which is great.
“It was good to finish the season well scoring a century in the last game and I think that potentially secured the contract.”
Hughes joins Tim Cruickshank, David Dawson, Scott Henry, Kurtis Patterson, Josh Lalor and Chris Tremain as the newcomers to the squad while the core of the side contains proven performers at the State level in Stephen O’Keefe, Trent Copeland, Moises Henriques, Ben Rohrer, Peter Nevill, Josh Hazlewood, Doug Bollinger and 2011/12 Steve Waugh Medalist, Steven Smith.
Simon Katich, Stuart Clark, Beau Casson and Phil Jaques have retired, while Nathan Hauritz, Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja and Timm van der Gugten have moved interstate.
Cricket NSW Chief Executive, David Gilbert, said that this would be a season of opportunity for the NSW SpeedBlitz Blues.
“While it will always be a challenge to replace cricketers with Test match experience, the NSW SpeedBlitz Blues still has a core group of players who have experienced success in domestic cricket, and many of them have represented Australia in their careers to date,” he said.
“There are several new names in our squad this summer, all of whom have been selected due to their impressive performances in both Grade and Second XI cricket. There are excellent opportunities on offer for the season ahead.”
According to Hughes, through coaching and training and a three-month stint playing cricket for Wombourne Cricket Club in England recently, his game has matured massively since his days on the Cowra pitches and is eager to be part of the changing of the guard.
“There are a lot of young guys in the squad now and a lot of the experience has gone out of the side, but all the young team members are excited about the step up their taking and the challenge that is ahead,” he said.
“I signed a deal to play in England for a full season in the Birmingham League, but I got the call to come back and start training.
“It was a good experience with different conditions and different wickets and I’m sure I’ll go back in years to come - I loved it.”
His willingness to face the fire early on hasn’t wavered, however, and he relishes the opportunity to take guard against the quicks.
“I just love taking on the new ball as an opening batsmen - I love taking the first ball of every innings,” Hughes said.
“I like to test myself and it excites me to do that.”
Everything seems to be falling into place for the 23-year-old who continues to achieve the goals he has set for himself.
“It’s panned out the way I wanted it,” he said.
“The season just gone, my plan was to get 2nd XI spots regularly and I got a few games and then after I scored a century in the last game I thought to myself that I’m ready for the next level. That step was to play for NSW and it looks like it’s all starting to happen now.”
When he’s not playing for NSW, Hughes will head back to the North Sydney club where he’ll play and train after the squad sessions.
With his body feeling fit and strong, Hughes will endeavour to make every session count in his bid to secure a regular starting spot on the way to becoming a permanent fixture in the NSW side.
“It’s all just a big learning curve for me now, but there’s nothing better than doing what you love as a job.”