Edinburgh Monarchs have been the best speedway team in the Premier League this season. But under the play-off system which determines each year’s champions, the Capital side will have to prove themselves all over again against Somerset Rebels in this weekend’s Grand Final showdown.
Somerset, who toppled Monarchs last year, are bidding to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since Glasgow Tigers achieved the feat in 1994.
What teams achieve over the regular league programme carries no clout in the play-offs, which boil down to a nervy two-match shootout akin to a dirt track lottery – but Monarchs are determined to land the jackpot prize they feel is theirs given their record in 2014.
Monarchs begin their quest for glory in the first leg of the final at the Oaktree Arena tonight, and skipper Derek Sneddon is convinced his side will prevail on aggregate over the two legs, in spite of the blow of losing Stevie Worrall this week with a wrist injury.
Sneddon said: “He missed our KO Cup final clashes against Ipswich and we still went on to claim the trophy, so all the boys are more determined than ever to win the league title in his absence. But we will miss him for sure.” Sneddon dislikes the play-off system, saying: “I’m not a fan of them at all, however, Somerset deserved to win the title last year because they were the better team. And they would have felt robbed had we gone down there and won the crown.
“But I think we have got the upper hand this time around and it would be good to gain revenge. But I think Edinburgh are league champions anyway no matter what happens over this weekend.”
Somerset handed Monarchs a hefty 57-35 defeat in the league back in August, which gave them food for thought, but Sneddon points out: “They caught us at a bad time. We had lost a couple of matches beforehand, which ended our 24-match unbeaten run, and the boys were a bit deflated when we arrived at Somerset, and our form took a bit of a dip and some heads were down.
“I think it will be a different scoreline on this occasion. I know all the guys are absolutely desperate to win the title.”
The Rebels, like Monarchs, have been invincible at home, and a lot may hinge on how Monarchs perform in the first match.
Sneddon added: “It’s going to be difficult for sure, but we just have to make sure that we ultimately come out on top.”
Asked if Somerset have any chinks in their armour, he said: “They will be without Brady Kurtz and losing captain Olly Allen will hurt them, and that could play into our hands. But going into these meetings, it counts for nothing in terms of what has gone before. You are starting afresh and you have to approach them in a completely different manner.
“It could be a big advantage that we are hosting the deciding tie at Armadale on Saturday simply because of the encouragement we will get from our own supporters, not that we want to be chasing a big deficit or anything like that.”
Sneddon was in charge when Monarchs captured their second championship crown in 2008 and would dearly love to do it again. “There are similarities between the side then and now,” he said. “Both squads gelled right from the start and the social side was very strong between the riders. Most of this year’s team stay close to each other and we all spend a great deal of time together, which has been fantastic for team spirit.”
Sneddon added: “I don’t think Somerset will be phased by anything – they know how strong they are at home. We have just got to go out and give it our all and what happens will happen.”
Team-mate Justin Sedgmen is especially keen for Monarchs to triumph because his dad is over from Australia to watch him. He said: “I don’t want to let him down! But it would great to win it after picking up two cups already in the space of a fortnight.
“Somerset have proved they are a capable side and are so strong round their own place, we will have to be on top of our game, especially with Stevie out. That heavy defeat we suffered in the league down there is of no consequence now and I don’t think we will allow it to happen again.
“We have been working all season towards this moment and it would be devastating if we will let things slip now – this is a special moment for us all.”
Somerset promoter Debbie Hancock is predicting the outcome may go down to the wire. “This is what we have been battling for. Having won the title a year ago we are determined to make a successful defence of our crown.
“By the same token, Edinburgh will be looking to avenge their defeat of last year. You look at the two league meetings between both sides this year and there has been little to choose on aggregate, and there is no reason to believe the final will be any different. Losing Olly is certainly not what we wanted to hear, but I believe we have got two guests (Edward Kennett tonight and Aaron Summers on Saturday) who will do a great job for us over both meetings.”
Monarchs co-promoter John Campbell thinks the loss of Allen for Somerset’s home leg could benefit the Capital side. Said Campbell: “Olly Allen is a consistent maximum man round Somerset and Kennett will do well to match that.
“Our boys will believe that they are capable of beating Kennett. As for Armadale, Allen has been good in the past, but also not so good, so you cannot say for definite is Aaron going to be better or not.
“Aaron’s form at Armadale has been variable and I’m not upset that they have chosen him as their guest, because potentially I believe there were better riders available to Somerset to choose from.”
After readjustments for both Monarchs and Somerset, it’s probably even harder now to call the outcome. But minus Worrall, it’s imperative that Monarchs’ top four are on their top game because Somerset will almost certainly win the reserve battle.