Kerr, Nikitaras headline Blues inclusions for 2022-23
Mature-aged recruits earn state contracts after breakout seasons, with 22-year-old opener Blake Nikitaras emulating his dad Steve as a NSW first-class representative
11 May 2022, 10:00 AM AEST
Had it not been for an ill-fated basketball match on the eve of the 2020-21 season, Blake Nikitaras' ascent to emulating his father as a NSW Blues first-class representative may have come 12 months sooner.
Primed for another strong season after impressing for NSW Second XI and St George in Premier Cricket the year before, the then 20-year-old went for a game of basketball with his club teammates when a practice match was called off.
He went down with an ACL injury during the shoot around, which ended his season before it began and resulted in him moving to Canberra for months of gruelling rehab work at the Australian Institute of Sport.
But such was the form of the 22-year-old opener in his comeback season (579 runs at 41 for St George in NSW Premier Cricket and 355 runs at 50 for the NSW Second XI, with three centuries and two 90s across both competitions) that he was elevated to the Blues XI for their last Marsh Sheffield Shield game of the summer.
The left-hander looked at home on debut with 44 and 56 against South Australia, highlighted by three swashbuckling sixes over midwicket, which helped earn him his first state contract, inking a rookie deal with NSW for the 2022-23 season.
Don't bowl there!! NSW debutant Blake Nikitaras with another monster strike to get off the mark in the second innings #SheffieldShield Watch live and free here: https://t.co/R0iUzuXEt4 pic.twitter.com/oGXTaXes0h— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) March 25, 2022
"If you told me at the start of the season with doing my ACL the year before that I'd be 13th man in a one-day game, play a Shield game and get a contract at the end of it, I probably wouldn't have believed you," Nikitaras told cricket.com.au.
"But I'm very happy and very proud."
The Illawarra product is one of six new signings for the Blues for next season, which is headlined by 25-year-old allrounder Hayden Kerr, who has enjoyed an even quicker rise from club cricketer to NSW and KFC BBL star.
Kerr, who is currently on stand-by for Indian Premier League franchise Lucknow Super Giants, has signed a three-year full contract with the Blues to go with his three-year deal at the Sydney Sixers.
NSW have also upgraded former Australia under-19 opening bowler Ryan Hadley to a full contract, while wicketkeeper-batter Lachlan Shaw and right-arm quick Will Salzmann, who were both part of Australia's U19 World Cup campaign in the Caribbean earlier this year have received rookie deals.
Liam Doddrell, who was named as a non-travelling reserve for that World Cup, has also earned a rookie contract after taking 29 wickets for Penrith in NSW Premier Cricket last season.
Cricket NSW Head of Male Cricket Michael Klinger said both Kerr and Nikitaras made it impossible to be ignored.
"Hayden Kerr was one of the stars of the Australian domestic summer … he is 25 and wasn't even on a rookie deal last year so it goes to show if you work hard and produce the right performances when given a chance, anything is possible," Klinger said.
"Blake took his opportunity in our last Sheffield Shield match with both hands. While he is 22 and older than our other new rookies Lachy Shaw, Will Salzmann and Liam Doddrell, he has demonstrated that a weight of runs or wickets in Premier Cricket, followed up by outstanding Second XI performances, can lead to a professional opportunity."
Nikitaras – born and raised in Oak Flats on the southwestern shores of Lake Illawarra – hails from cricketing pedigree with his dad Steve representing NSW twice in the Sheffield Shield in the mid-1990s.
A left-arm pace bowler, Steve, then moved to Western Australia where played a further two first-class matches, along with 14 List A appearances for both states, winning the Mercantile Mutual Cup with WA in 1999-00 alongside Justin Langer, Simon Katich, Mike Hussey, Brendon Julian and Brag Hogg.
"As soon as we could walk the old man had a cricket bat in my hand and my brother and I used to play (as kids)," Nikitaras said.
"He's always backed me, along with my mum, but dad was always eager to get down to the nets to throw balls at me and help me get better.
"He has the Baggy Blue hung up at home to remind me … he was almost happier than me now that I've got my own."
After progressing through the ACT-NSW County underage pathways, Nikitaras made the move to Sydney to play Premier Cricket with St George in 2017-18 and got one year into an electrical apprenticeship before injuring his knee.
He then moved into part-time landscaping during his rehab but was planning to restart his apprenticeship this year if he didn't earn a state contract.
He's now moving back to Sydney at the end of this month, where he'll be rooming with fellow opening batter Matthew Gilkes, to begin life as a professional cricketer.
The Blues list also features seven NSW players with central contracts, including Test skipper Pat Cummins, bowlers Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Adam Zampa and batters Steve Smith and David Warner.
NSW Blues 2022-23 contract list: Sean Abbott, Trent Copeland, Pat Cummins*, Oliver Davies, Ben Dwarshuis, Jack Edwards, Mickey Edwards, Matthew Gilkes, Ryan Hackney, Ryan Hadley, Liam Hatcher, Josh Hazlewood*, Lachlan Hearne, Moises Henriques, Baxter Holt, Daniel Hughes, Hayden Kerr, Nathan Lyon*, Kurtis Patterson (c), Daniel Sams, Jason Sangha, Tanveer Sangha, Steve Smith*, Mitchell Starc*, Chris Tremain, David Warner*, Adam Zampa*. Rookies: Liam Doddrell, Blake Nikitaras, Jack Nisbet, Lachlan Shaw, Will Salzmann, Hunar Verma.
* Cricket Australia contract
Ins: Liam Doddrell (rookie), Ryan Hadley (upgraded), Hayden Kerr, Blake Nikitaras (rookie), Lachlan Shaw (rookie), Will Salzmann (rookie). Outs: Josh Baraba (rookie – delisted), Harry Conway (South Australia), Peter Nevill (retired)