Edinburgh Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess today reacted to growing speculation that under fire second string star Jye Etheridge is on the brink of being axed.
The 21-year-old Australian has struggled to score points since touching down in March, but Harkess insisted some people have drawn the wrong conclusion regarding his future with the speedway outfit.
Harkess said: “There comes a time such are the rules of the sport that we cannot drop Jye no matter how bad he is until he’s had four home and four away matches. He completes this against Newcastle Diamonds tonight.
“Then if we wanted the option it would be ours. With our next league match a fortnight away because of Ryan Fisher’s testimonial meeting, if we were going to do anything it gives us a little bit of time. It’s nothing more than that and it would be wrong to say anything else on the subject to be truthful.
“Jye is currently in our team and we will give him all the encouragement we can.”
Asked to explain why Etheridge, whose signing was a bit left field in the same way that American Aaron Fox was in 2014, has toiled to make any impression on the track so far, Harkess replied: “I’m not sure. Sometimes riders come from the other side of the world and some average ones become very good and some good ones become average.
“You never know until they arrive how they will settle in especially in regard to riding different kinds of tracks in the Premier League. When Jye arrived in March he was faced with some wet tracks which, coming from Australia, he wasn’t used to.
“But he is finding it very difficult there is no doubt about that, and if you are not scoring points you are not living very comfortably either.”
Etheridge, who is fully aware of his need to improve, slotted in to the Monarchs side on a five-point average and Harkess maintained when he was unveiled: “We are not signing a five-point rider for them not to live up to that.”
Harkess added: “At the moment Jye is on a one-point average and we cannot cope with that. I could live with it if he was a one-point rider in March, a three-point rider in April and a five-point rider in June. But we need to see that progression happening.
“It’s something we need to take on board and something we will be looking at.”
Harkess also insisted that Etheridge is unlikely to drop down to reserve, which could have been of benefit to him in terms of confidence.
“Jye will never drop below five so it would take one of our reserves to make an awfully big jump to force Jye down and I don’t envisage this happening.”
Yet in spite of Etheridge’s continuing battle to exert himself, Monarchs picked up two away points at Ipswich and Rye House last week to keep them on course to reach the play-offs later in the season.
Harkess said: “We are not that far away and if one of our other riders had scored five points or more than they are it would have been enough for us to have won at Ipswich and Rye House.
“If we can make the team stronger or get the riders we have got to perform better we will achieve our ambition. Those two away points mean we don’t have ground to make up providing we don’t slip up at home. But we are letting points go adrift when we should be scoring more.
“We are still suffering from too many last places. I think we had nine at Rye House. Had it been just five we would have taken all three match points there.”
Tonight’s visitors Newcastle used to be Monarchs’ bogey team and the solid make-up of the Tynesiders could place Monarchs in some peril.
They crushed Redcar Bears in he League Cup on Monday with Robert Lambert scoring his first maximum for the Brough Park outfit. The Diamonds will be former Monarch Steve Worrall as he is racing for Bellevue and his place will be taken by another ex-Edinburgh man in the shape of guest Theo Pijper.
Harkess concluded: “It is going to be very tricky for us but Max (Clegg) is doing better now and everybody feels that Dan (Bewley) is about to jump on the scene and start scoring points.”
Newcastle are unbeaten in the league after home and away victories against neighbours Berwick Bandits.