Edinburgh Monarchs are aiming to make a great start to their Premier League speedway play-off group campaign when they host Berwick Bandits in their opening tie at Armadale tonight.
But the fact Monarchs have crushed the Bandits in their three previous clashes at the Lothian Arena this year will count for nothing, according to Aussie ace Max Fricke, who warns: “We cannot get ahead of ourselves.”
Fricke says he is energised at the prospect of a cut-and-thrust group battle against the Bandits and their other opponents, Workington Comets, and feels Monarchs are capable of winning through to the Grand Final to decide the destiny of the championship crown.
Fricke told the Evening News: “It was good to finish top of the league to get first choice of our opponents. Berwick and Workington are decent teams, but I think if we pull together as a unit, as we have done all season, we will make it to the final.”
Fricke added: “We have a strong team ourselves and this should enable us to beat the others.”
It’s easy to dismiss Berwick. Their dreadful record at Armadale remains a millstone round their collective necks, though Fricke insists Monarchs will give their visitors they respect they deserve.
“Hopefully we can go out and perform against them, as we have done so successfully in the past,” he said. “That is certainly our plan.”
Gaining an away win in the group is often the key that opens the door to the Grand Final and the return tie at Shielfield Park tomorrow night is not going to be as clear-cut an affair.
Berwick are the only team to have beaten Monarchs twice this season round their Border circuit – their most recent success, a 48-41 league triumph in front of the Sky cameras in August.
Winning at Berwick is often determined by how conducive their circuit is to fast, attacking speedway and Fricke maintained: “A lot will depend on how we turn up on the day and how everyone gates on the night, because there is not too much passing down there.
“On our last trip we got off to a slow start in the first half and couldn’t recover. So we need to make a strong opening over the first few heats and keep it that way. And also ensure we get out of the gate ahead of the Berwick riders, as races are often won by the first or second bends.”
How Fricke performs is often the gauge that defines Monarchs’ overall display and the 18-year-old has been as sharp as a tack on occasions this year due to a raft of guest bookings in the Elite League for Coventry Bees.
Fricke, however, is guarded when asked about the possibility of moving up into the Elite League on a permanent basis in 2015, saying: “We will see what happens, but I’ve got no firm plans at the moment regarding my future. It’s too early to think about anything like that.
“I’m flattered that clubs are asking about me, but it would depend if anyone wants me.”
If the rules are changed to allow riders on Australian or international licences to double-up next season in the wake of the visa shambles which caused chaos during last winter, then Fricke is optimistic he will be back at Armadale next spring.
“If I can double-up and remain with Edinburgh, that would ideal,” he said.
Berwick will be without their injured Dane, Steen Jensen, and will use the rider replacement facility to cover his absence, giving extra rides to team-mates Kevin Doolan, David Bellego and reserves Alex Edberg and Matthew Wethers.
Monarchs complete their group programme against Workington at Armadale next Friday and travel to Derwent Park for the return match 24 hours later. Also, Monarchs’ rained-off league fixture at Sheffield Tigers has been re-arranged for Thursday, September 25.
• Monarchs have released dates for their League Cup final against Peterborough Panthers. The first leg will be at the East of England Showground on Sunday, October 5, with the deciding tie at Armadale on Friday, October 10.