REIGNING Vitality Blast champions Worcestershire arrive in Birmingham this weekend as real contenders to take home a second title, just a year after winning their first.

Rapids kicked off this year’s T20 competition with a 28-run victory at Notts Outlaws.

A match-salvaging innings of 42 off 19 balls from Ed Barnard and four wickets for skipper Moeen Ali proved too much for an Outlaws side containing England’s Alex Hales and former Worcestershire men Joe Clarke and Luke Wood.

Three straight wins against Durham, Derbyshire Falcons and Yorkshire Vikings kept the campaign going.

There were substantial contributions from overseas professional Martin Guptill and new boy Riki Wessels along with a surprise cameo from South African paceman Wayne Parnell.

Promoted up the order to number four in a tricky run chase against Durham, Parnell played a sublime innings of 81 not out from 46 balls, sealing the winning runs with a six in front of the Blackfinch New Road faithful with an over to spare.

Defeats against Derbyshire and Leicestershire Foxes threatened to derail the County’s bid for a second successive finals day.

But a strong end to the season including wins over Durham and Birmingham Bears saw them secure their place in the quarter-finals.

Rapids booked their spot at finals day with a barnstorming last-eight win on the south coast with Moeen’s 121 from 60 balls brushing aside last year’s beaten finalists Sussex Sharks.

The batting effort for Rapids has been led by captain Moeen, opener Wessels and the calm presence of Ben Cox down the order.

Moeen, having been dropped by England during this summer’s Ashes series, made a welcome return to form with two half-centuries and a century leading his side into finals day.

Wessels has produced key innings throughout the tournament, playing second fiddle to Moeen during his match-winning knocks against Birmingham and Sussex.

On the bowling front, last year’s wonderkid Pat Brown is still leading the way with 14 wickets this year.

His changes of pace and knuckle balls have been proving more than a match for some of the country’s most dangerous T20 batsmen.

Brown has been supported in the attack by the ever-impressive Barnard and Parnell with youngster Dillon Pennington picking up nine wickets along the way.

Worcestershire will be boosted on finals day by the returns of Parnell, Hamish Rutherford and Brett D’Oliveira.

Both missed the final few games of this year’s Blast campaign — Parnell through illness and Rutherford via his call-up to the New Zealand squad for their T20 series in Sri Lanka.

All-rounder D’Oliveira is set to return from injury.

This year sees the Rapids in action against Notts in the first match of the day at 11am on Saturday.

A win will put them head-to-head with the winners of the second semi-final which sees Derbyshire and Essex Eagles face off at 2.30pm for a place in the 6.45pm final.

If Worcestershire were to win this year’s T20 Blast, they would become the first side in the competition’s 16-year history to retain their title and only the third county to win the tournament more than once.