Craig Cook has made no secret of his desire to win the Premier League speedway championship with Edinburgh Monarchs this season.
And speaking ahead of tonight’s Play Off Grand Final first leg tie against Somerset Rebels at Armadale, the Cumbrian racer urged his team-mates to “take no prisoners” as the Capital outfit bid to capture a fourth national title in the space of 11 years.
The Monarchs No. 1, pictured below, who has been instrumental in guiding his team to the final, said: “We need to go out and hit Somerset hard. If it’s a tight first corner don’t back off, give them an elbow – that’s what it’s all about. Take no prisoners is the attitude we have got to have to stand a chance.”
This is Monarchs’ seventh clash against the Rebels this year and Cook confessed: “I sort of half expected we would meet them again to decide the league. “We have worked hard to get there and rode well in our play-off group, and as long as we maintain our form I think both legs have the makings of being great matches.”
The catalyst for Monarchs’ play-off progress was undoubtedly their 49-41 away win at Ipswich Witches – an astonishing result bearing in mind that it had coincided with a lapse in belief among the squad which could easily have shattered their title dream.
Said Cook: “Before we went to Ipswich I looked at their side and I expected them to do a lot better than they did on the night. Ipswich had two good reserves but they did nothing against us and that played into our hands.
“By contrast our reserve, Derek Sneddon, rode fantastically well to score 16 points and he was our match-winner and showed what he is capable of.”
Somerset, who are looking to clinch a league and cup double, have been relentlessly consistent over the last few months, yet Cook insists that Edinburgh are the better team.
“Somerset have a very strong top three, but we are stronger throughout the whole team,” he said. “Somerset have gained a bit at the tail-end ever since they signed Charles Wright, but he’s a bit hit-and-miss. I do think there will be a lot of pressure on Derek to take care of him, and I believe Derek will be our key man to win us the trophy.”
It has been claimed that Somerset would have preferred to have avoided Monarchs and Cook added: “That is probably the case. I was speaking to Somerset’s top guy, Jason Doyle, at the Elite League Riders’ Championship at the weekend and he told me he doesn’t like riding at Armadale and that should boost our team.
“But while Jason may not fancy our track their other heat leaders, Nick Morris and Josh Grajczonek, do ride it well, so there is no way we can relax.”
The first leg could be decisive for Monarchs who need to build up a decent-size lead to give Somerset food for thought.
“It will all depend on how many points we score,” said Cook. “We must pile up as many points as we can and I think we have a decent chance.
“It’s all about getting out of the gate as well. We need to make sure our guys have their clutches bang-on so we can nip out of the starts – this is where it will be won or lost.”
Cook has been on something of a crusade to win the championship, but he says it’s not about personal acclaim.
“This is our biggest match and it’s what the whole season has boiled down to – it’s what all the hard work and effort have been for. And it will be a shame if we go into these matches and don’t get it right.
“I know our team has been inconsistent on occasions. But the Grand Final is not the time for us to be inconsistent.
“Winning the league is not just for me – I want to do it for the fans, the management, everybody. I feel like I’m part of the Monarchs family now and I’m doing it for all of them.”
Monarchs and Somerset have been evenly matched this term. The Armadale men have won both league encounters, with Somerset’s hefty 58-32 win in the KO Cup semi-final replay being the only time Monarchs metaphorically failed to show up at the Oaktree Arena.
It came down that evening to how much we wanted it and how much determination you have got. Somerset wanted it more and we did not want it badly enough.”
Talk that Somerset are due a bad match finds no favour with Cook, who said: “For them to do that, a few of their team would have to flop.
“However, Somerset are a team full of professional riders with top-notch equipment, so I don’t think that will happen and that is why they have been so good this season.”
Cook added: “I think it will be pretty close, and at the end of the two legs I think there might just be a couple of points in it.”
Somerset boss Garry May said: “I always had a funny feeling we’d meet up with Edinburgh again. We have had some great tussles with them already, and I think the Grand Final will definitely live up to expectations.”
n If tonight’s meeting is rained off it will be restaged tomorrow with a 7pm start.
The second-leg is on Monday in Highbridge, Somerset.