A highlight at the start of the 1922-23 season was a visit of Charlie Macartney’s XI to Maitland to mark the official opening of the new turf wicket at Lorn Park. This match was organised by Charlie’s school and life-long friend, Will C Johnston of Northern Division, and included a number of international and interstate players – Alan Kippax, Bert Oldfield, Johnnie Taylor, Tommy Andrews, “Johnnie” Moyes and Bill Trenerry (a former local player).
The team played a Northern District XIII that included some players from Newcastle, Taree and Singleton: EP Barbour, B Watson, R Fawcett, S McGlynn, C Morrissey, R McLean, L Moore, W Jarrett, R Oakes, JJ McEnearney, L Manners, WC Johnston and H Patfield. Macartney’s team scored 216 (AG Moyes 57, JM Taylor 54, R McLean 5-44) to Northern District’s 185 (EP Barbour 94).
Shortly after the match Will Johnston received a letter from Macartney, in which he wrote: “Personally I can look upon the whole thing as an honour done to me by my native town, and I want you to thoroughly realise how much I do appreciate it, and what a real pleasure it was to visit West Maitland again”.
While one new turf wicket came into operation, another went out. This was the historic Albion wicket at the Showground, which was lost to the Association when the Show Association carried out major alterations to the ground, involving lighting and a new show ring area.
The last match to be played on the wicket took place on January 1 1923 and was appropriately between a Hunter River DCA team and Newcastle. It was a high scoring match with 568 runs being scored in five and a half hours’ batting – Hunter River DCA making 9-350 in 190 minutes and Newcastle 5-‘218 in 140 minutes. There were two centuries in the match – one by N Tiedeman (101) a Robins player, and the other by EP Barbour (100 n.o.) of Newcastle.
After the match EP Barbour, who had played considerable interstate cricket, said that it was a perfect wicket for batsmen, one that could not be bettered anywhere. “If I were playing cricket in Maitland,” he added, “I would give up bowling. It would break a bowler’s heart to bowl on such wickets. To play a match such as this on that wicket would take three days.”
The loss of the Albion wicket was later described at the Annual Meeting as “a calamity to the game of cricket in the district”, as it deprived the Association not only of a first class turf wicket that had received such wide acclaim from numerous touring and visiting teams, but it also took away the only enclosed ground where an entrance fee could be charged for major representative fixtures.
There was a drop in the number of local team entries from 48 to 37, with 6 in A grade, 8 in B, and 23 in C. In A grade East Greta and Raymond Terrace dropped out, but a new entry was received from Branxton. In the lower grades new names to appear were Nelsons Plains, Homeville, Kurri Kurri CoOperative Society, South Cessnock and Mulbring Pioneers.
Branxton, which had previously been constituted as an Association, was to prove a real force in the A grade competition. Northern Division won the premiership, but in the Irwin Shield Final which was played to a finish, extending over four Saturdays and to the end of April, Branxton won by four wickets. The Branxton team which played in the final included four members of the Thrift family – G Thrift, R Thrift, DE Thrift and DJ Thrift.
During the season Frank Cummins of the Robins Club began to fulfil some of his early promise. In a match against Marist Bros, he scored 192 in a record district sixth wicket partnership of 327 with Frank McMullen (126 n.o.). The Mercury reporter commented: “It was a wonderful performance, especially for a boy of 16 years. He showed good form last season and he has more than justified the trial given him this year … Cummins is a descendant of the Moore family, one well known in cricket, and he promises to uphold its reputation.”
Interest was added to the B and C grade competitions with the donation of two shields – one by Messrs J Kerr & Sons for B grade and the other by Johnston’s Boot Store for C grade. These were to be contested under the same conditions as for the Irwin Shield. In B grade Mulbring won the Kerr Shield by defeating East Maitland in the final, while in C grade Heddon Greta won the Johnston Shield by defeating Government Railways.
Following a conference with country delegates in Sydney, the NSWCA reorganised country cricket. Country Week in Sydney was revived with the Hunter River DCA being part of a Northern District that extended from Gosford north-west to the Queensland border. G Bell (Morpeth), R Thrift and C Bendeich (Branxton) represented the Association at Country Week, with G Bell subsequently being chosen to play for Combined Country No 2 against a Metropolitan team.
On Easter Monday 1923, a NSWCA XI played a Northern District team at Lorn Park. The Northern District team comprised nine HRDCA players and two from Newcastle. Northern District, captained by Will Johnston, scored 146 and 8-91 to the NSWCA’s 211 with Johnnie Taylor scoring 39 and Harold Cranney 61. The visitors expressed delight with the wicket, “several stating that it was the best they had played on this season”.