LAST year James O'Brien wasn't part of the Western Zone squad which went on to be crowned NSW country champions but when the side begin their title defence on Friday he will be pivotal.
O'Brien missed out on selection last season but he has impressed since being back playing in Dubbo this summer.
Despite that good form, on Friday against Riverina the all-rounder will be tasked with one of the biggest jobs in country cricket. Replacing Tim Cox.
The Australian Country quick has called time on his representative career and O'Brien will now take the new ball for Western in their three Southern Pool matches at Wagga.
"I'm really looking forward to it and I'll be opening the bowling so it's good to know my role," O'Brien said.
"It's allowed me some quality time to prepare before we head off so I'm really looking forward to it."
Playing for Rugby after spending a season in his home town of Mudgee, O'Brien has been a regular contributor with both bat and ball in the opening weeks of the Whitney Cup season.
He has also played a key role for the Orana Outlaws in the Regional Big Bash while he staked his claim for a prominent Western spot during the sides pre-season matches against Eastern Suburbs and Hawkesbury.
"I feel I've been bowling well and haven't been getting the wickets I'd like but the ball is coming out really well so hopefully the wickets will turn around," he said.
"I've spent a lot of time bowling at home and working on my action and fitness so hopefully it will all pay off."
Another big thing driving O'Brien over the next three days is the disappointment of sitting at home while his teammates defeated Newcastle in the Country Championships final last season.
After dominating the Southern Pool at Griffith the side took on the powerhouse in the decider at Wade Park and cruised to victory on the back of a brilliant Jordan Moran century and O'Brien is determined to be part of a moment like that again.
"Especially considering I was there when we won it a few years ago and it would have been great to be there again but hopefully we can do it now," he said.
"I think the year off did me more good than bad, it made me more hungry to get back in."
O'Brien will be part of a fast bowling cartel featuring fellow Dubbo quicks Tim Berry and Will Lindsay and Bathurst's Aaron Seymour and all will be key against what is expected to be a very strong Riverina batting lineup.
The side also take on Illawarra on Saturday and Southern on Sunday and if they are good enough to win all three matches then a rematch with Newcastle beckons, after the Hunter side came out on top in the Northern Pool last weekend.
Friday's match against Riverina begins at 10am at Robertson Oval.
WESTERN ZONE: Nick Berry (captain, Cowra), Tim Berry (Dubbo), Mitch Bower (Dubbo), Anthony Heraghty (Parkes), Marty Jeffrey (Dubbo), Will Lindsay (Dubbo), Jordan Moran (Dubbo), Stuart Naden (Dubbo), James O'Brien (Dubbo), Ryan Peacock (Bathurst), Aaron Seymour (Bathurst), Josh Toole (Bathurst)
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