With his new-look short back and sides, Craig Cook prompted some people to do a double take when he arrived in the pits to prepare for his practice session at Armadale last week, while it was even joked that he looked like a sixth former from Waterloo Road.
The Englishman makes his comeback from injury for the Capital speedway outfit tonight and aims to teach Scunthorpe Scorpions a lesson as Monarchs kick off their play-off programme which they hope will lead them to a fourth championship crown in a decade.
Cook has been sidelined for five weeks after breaking his wrist during Matthew Wethers’ testimonial meeting, but he revealed he is in great shape and has no worries about replicating the blistering scoring form he was in before his unfortunate mishap.
“My bike actually was playing up last week at Armadale which is why I went out for an additional practice on the Saturday.
“I was a bit nervous because I’ve not been on my bike for so long, but everything went well and I’ve also been to the gym – I feel great. I scored 15-point maximums in my last three matches before I got injured and you have got to be confident about coming back at the level you left.
“You have got to put any injury to the back of your mind. There is no reason why I won’t score just as well again. You have got to believe in yourself. You can’t afford to feel scared otherwise you’ll just get hurt again and there would be no point in even riding the bike. You have got to be strong minded.”
Cook deliberately held off from returning to the saddle too quickly for fear that he could compromise Monarchs’ play-off chances if it turned out he wasn’t 100 per cent fit.
“I definitely think we can win the league,” he said. “And by delaying my return it has given me time to strengthen up. The last thing I wanted to do was come back prematurely and, in my eyes, it was the right decision. The key to winning the play-offs is that the whole team needs to click together on the same night.
“I don’t think there has been one occasion this season when this has happened – we have been up and down at times.
“We need to be totally focused because if one of us has a bad match then we are not going to win this league. We all need to be at the top of our game over the next two weeks because the league is not going to be given to us on a plate.”
Workington Comets are Monarchs’ other mini-group rivals, but Cook thinks Scunthorpe have the potential to spring a shock. “I think Scunthorpe are going to be our biggest challengers,” he said. “It’s going to be tough for us at Workington, though I’m confident we’ll beat them at Armadale.”
Cook does not need reminding that Scunthorpe are the only team to have beaten Monarchs in the regular league programme at home this season, but discounts their triumph which was achieved in mud-like conditions. “That was nothing to go by because the track was a mess that night,” he said. “The meeting was a lottery – it could have been won by anyone.”
Cook added that he hasn’t thought about changing anything about himself or his machinery while he has been out, insisting: “I don’t see why I should change anything, I feel totally comfortable about myself and my bikes.
“I want to help Monarchs win the title because a lot of people discredited our team at the start of the season, saying we were weak. But we have proved them wrong so far.”
Marcel Helfer will miss Monarchs’ next few matches due to commitments on the Continent and is replaced, for this match at least, by guest Byron Bekker.
Scunthorpe still have David Howe out injured and will use Kevin Doolan as a stand-in this evening, with Jason Bunyan stepping in for Sunday’s return clash at the Eddie Wright Raceway. They will also operate the rider replacement facility for crocked Thomas Jorgensen. Scorpions promoter Rob Godfrey is not playing down the significance of the play-offs to his team, admitting: “They are absolutely huge for our club and it’s no exaggeration to say they are the most important matches in the history of Scunthorpe speedway.
“We have been in fantastic form leading into the play-offs and see no reason why we can’t qualify for the grand final.”
Team manager Richard Hollingsworth added: “We fear no-one in the play-offs and are looking to take the momentum of our last few regular league meetings into these upcoming matches. “I think we are the form team at the moment.”