Bonds Glen and St Johnston may not be the most prominent teams in the North West but they could literally be the centre of attention this year.

On the surface, it may look like a case of marking time for the 2023 NW Premiership which gets under way on Saturday, with all 15 senior clubs playing each other once to decide next year’s line-up.

Only the top eight advance, while the bottom seven on September 2 will form next term’s Championship.

But while the likes of defending champions Newbuildings, Brigade, Bready and Donemana would appear to be certainties to fill half of the slots in the top flight next year, the real battle for glory will be for the seventh and eighth places and this is where last year’s Championship top two come into the equation.

St Johnston, despite being pipped to the title last season by Bonds Glen, will claim they are favourites for a first return to the top flight since they were relegated in 2015 because they were unbeaten following the mid-season split.

Two no results left them one point behind the Bee Gees, who lost two of their final six games.

Both teams have home advantage to make a winning start tomorrow with the Saints, who have signed Ireland international Graeme McCarter from Brigade — an appeal against the move by the Beechgrove club was rejected this week — facing Senior Cup holders Fox Lodge, while there is sure to plenty of emotion about when Bonds Glen, who were relegated from the last 10-team Premiership in 2012, meet Donemana.

Ash Buchannan, a cup winner with Donemana in 2020, played for both clubs and the 34-year-old will be remembered following his sudden death three weeks ago.

Pick of the opening day action, and certain to attract a big crowd to The Rectory, will be the Waterside derby between Glendermott, coached this year by Bobby Rao, and Brigade, who have signed Scott Macbeth from Bready plus Josh Wilson, son of former bowler Gregory, and Ireland Academy all-rounder Cameron Melly.

Newbuildings have Gareth McKeegan back as captain following Jared Wilson’s move to Cliftonville Academy as their Director of Cricket and they should make a winning start against Strabane, who will be looking for a much more settled team this term.

Saturday fixtures - 
NW Premiership (Noon): Bonds Glen v Donemana, Bready v Killyclooney, Burndennett v Coleraine, Eglinton v Ballyspallen, Glendermott v Brigade, Newbuildings v Strabane, St Johnston v Fox Lodge.