PENRITH Cricket Club has announced one of the most significant player signings in its 40-year history, confirming emerging English talent Sam Billings (pictured) will join the club for its Sydney grade campaign.
A top-order batsman for the county team Kent, Billings, 22, already boasts a century and an average of 40 in his fledgling first-class career and is regarded as one of the UK's best limited-overs batsmen.
He will further boost a Penrith first-grade team that shapes up as one of the strongest in recent memory.
Joining him is fellow recruit Matt Hopkins, who heads west from last year's first-grade runners-up Sutherland.
Hopkins has a reputation for being a determined opener, capable of making big scores.
Off-spinner Tim McKay also rejoins his junior club after several seasons at Hawkesbury.
Penrith's performance director Steve Small, another crucial off-season acquisition, sees Billings as a proven match winner who can dominate the first-grade premiership. "Sam's a former England under-19s representative and has made centuries in four-day and one-day cricket for his county Kent at 22, so his talent is undeniable," said the former NSW opening batsman and coach. "He'll bring some professionalism and an X factor to a formidable first-grade side.
"Billings and Hopkins are wonderful acquisitions and add to that the return of McKay alongside our established players in Test star Pat Cummins, NSW paceman Josh Lalor, all-rounder Pat Jackson and veteran batsman Luke Morrissey. Undoubtedly, we have the best bowling attack in the competition with Lalor, Jackson, Jarrod Lee, Max McNamara, Ryan Smith and Michael Collins all vying for first-grade. We hope Pat [Cummins] will play more cricket for us this season as he re-establishes himself at international level.
"We can shake the competition provided we apply ourselves and work as hard as we can always."
Small said Penrith's pre-season has been under way for a month and he's excited by the work ethic and talent across all grades.
"I've made it clear to everyone we won't tolerate short cuts and the standard of pre-season training has been among the best I've seen at any club," he said.
"We've revitalised our pre-season program to include a tour to Penrith by the North Hobart Cricket club, whom we play in a Twenty20 match on September 7 and a 50-over game the next day.
"We're also off to Bathurst on September 14 and 15 for an exhibition match and camp, so we'll be ready to go come round one on September 28.