Edinburgh Monarchs begin their Premier League speedway campaign against Sheffield Tigers at Armadale tomorrow night and are desperate to erase the memory of an agonising loss to Somerset Rebels in last year’s two-leg Play-Off Grand Final.
For Monarchs co-promoter John Campbell, just thinking about that loss stirs up a feeling of injustice.
“When Somerset’s Nick Morris knocked off Jozsef Tabaka in our leg of the final, that is when we lost the league title,” he explained. “We would have won it had Jozsef been available for the rest of that meeting and also the return leg at Somerset. I’m clear in my mind about that – it cost us the title.”
Tabaka broke his leg in the incident, which has cost him his place in this year’s side. However, the Hungarian may make a comeback at some point over the course of this season and remains a handy insurance policy for Monarchs.
After a perfect League Cup campaign, Monarchs would appear to be in good shape in their quest for a fourth British crown. However, Campbell insists the real hard work will not begin until September if his side can finish in the top six, which is the passport to the Play-Offs.
Said Campbell: “It has been very nice to start the season with a run of victories and while it is nice to have that momentum, it won’t mater if we lose here and there.
“Our aim is to win all our league meetings at home and pick up some away victories to get us into the top six.
“I think most of the good teams are all in the north and since we have beaten them all already, this gives us a degree of confidence when some of the more southerly sides come up here.
“We are going very well and even if Craig [Cook] drops an odd point, it doesn’t make any difference to the team.”
Asked if he has pinpointed any danger sides to Monarchs’ hopes, Campbell replied: “It is still too early to say because the real battle will not begin until September. It is all about finishing in that top-six position and that is our main focus. We will worry about things after that.”
Campbell thinks Monarchs have a more settled squad compared to 2013, but admitted: “While we are solid at the moment, it would be nice to have one rider other than Craig dominating all their races.
“I would like to think that Sam [Masters] would get into that situation and that goes for Max [Fricke] as well. Max was very good at Workington recently, but not so good at home to Glasgow last week.
“Craig is the best rider in the league and I expect him to score 14 or 15 points in every match.
“He is there to do that, it’s his job. But if anyone else in the team can do that as well, then stand by, here we come.”
The key to Monarchs’ championship ambitions lies with their two reserve riders, who are currently Steve Worrall and Justin Sedgmen.
Said Campbell: “To have two scoring reserves is a marvellous situation to be in and we have a reasonable chance of that continuing no matter who is at reserve.
“That will put us ahead of anybody else in the league. Justin will move into the team proper and Aaron [Fox] will drop to reserve at the beginning of next month. However, Steve has a bit of catching up to do. He did not do that well in the Premier League last season so has work to do to gain a decent average. He might remain at reserve for a little while yet.”
Campbell added that with results so far “all over the place” in the League Cup qualifying sections, identifying potential banana skins is tricky. “It’s not yet clear who the top six teams will be, but I don’t think it will take long to discover who the good and bad teams are,” he continued. “One thing certain is that a lot of sides will be chasing these six places. Obviously we want to claim one of them and we should if we can keep a clean sheet at home. We are capable of doing that.”
Cook, who is already setting a scorching pace round Armadale, feels Monarchs were inconsistent last season and that must change.
“Hopefully everyone can put in consistent performances this season and I think we have seen signs of that already,” he said. “You only need to look at Somerset – that’s why they won the title. We want to be like them this year – they were head and shoulders above any team in 2013.”
Cook added: “I think the main pressure will be on Derek [Sneddon]. We know he can be better than he showed last year. He tells me we will see a different man this year. I hope so. He would have been better had he put a bit more time and effort into his riding, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer.”