WESTERN Storm open their Kia Super League title defence in Taunton this month, boosted by the news that several star performers are returning for 2018.

They possess a blend of local talents and international stalwarts, with New Zealand’s Rachel Priest and West Indies all-rounder Stafanie Taylor being joined by rising Indian star Smriti Mandhana.

The England trio of Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole and Fran Wilson remain with the champions, and this week they announced the re-signing Freya Davies and Sophie Luff.

Right-handed batter Luff, 24, captained Somerset Women in 2018 and is the Somerset Cricket Board’s Women and Girls Performance head coach.

She provided vital runs in the middle order in 2017, third in the Storm batting averages behind only Priest and Taylor, with 84 runs from seven matches (average of 28).

Having agreed to play for the reigning champions again in 2018, Lympsham star Luff said: “To be able to represent the West Country is something very special and it’s great to be able to walk out in front of big crowds at Somerset and Gloucestershire.

“The competition will be bigger than ever this year, but we are all looking forward to the challenge and hopefully I can contribute to us being successful again.”

Western Storm head coach Trevor Griffin said: “Although Sophie is still young, she has a real wealth of experience already.

“The supporters in the South West love her and I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time before she receives international recognition.

“Her runs in the middle order last year were one of the main elements of our success and I am sure she will be one of our main contributors again in 2018.”

Fast bowler Davies, 22, played in every match last year (claiming five wickets), and was awarded a rookie contract by England Women this year.

Griffin described her as “one of the most exciting prospects in the game at the moment”.

Storm’s 2018 campaign opens with a home fixture against Yorkshire Diamonds in front of the Sky TV cameras at the Cooper Associates Ground on Sunday, July 22.

2018 home fixtures
Western Storm v Yorkshire Diamonds (Taunton, July 22)
Western Storm v Surrey Stars (Cheltenham, July 26)
Western Storm v Loughborough Lightning (Taunton, July 29)
Western Storm v Lancashire Thunder (Taunton, August 9)
Western Storm v Southern Vipers (Bristol, August 11)