Sam MASTERS’ rapid rise to the coveted No.1 spot in the Edinburgh Monarchs speedway team after just a few weeks of the new season has taken nobody by surprise.
The smiling Australian laid the foundations last year with a splurge of high-scoring displays which eclipsed, on occasions, the efforts of Craig Cook, the man he has now displaced.
Masters’ consistency during Monarchs’ history-making treble-winning campaign has continued almost seamlessly into 2015 and Cook, who continues to have issues with his clutches, may find it hard to climb back to the summit.
Masters, who lines up against Newcastle Diamonds in tonight’s Premier League fixture at Armadale, confessed he is something of a reluctant top dog and never set out to elbow his team-mate out of the role.
But statistics don’t lie and under the first set of new averages, Masters’ prowess on the track makes him leader of the pack for now. He said: “I did not aim to be No.1 and always said that if people asked the question.
“Craig is such a good rider and has been awesome round Armadale. But my consistent scoring has carried on from last season and that’s the reason.
“Being No.1 doesn’t feel that different apart from coming out in the opening heat each week. And there is some pressure in doing that because you always want to win that first race to give the whole side a lift; if you don’t you sometimes find yourself playing catch-up.”
Cook, for his part, is playing down the switch of positions, insisting: “Sam deserves it, he has been gating like a demon. People say we have a great rivalry but I’m too busy working on my own riding.”
Masters says there is no great secret behind his ascendancy, explaining: “It boils down to the fact that I did a lot of racing during the winter back home in Australia, probably far more than I have done in the past.
“And when I arrived back in the UK for the new season, I wasn’t going into the campaign cold, so to speak. Some riders like to take a break from speedway throughout the close season, but I was the opposite. I’m just stoked that my form has stayed the same and I’m really enjoying myself right now.”
Masters is already shaping Monarchs’ defence of their championship title, and said after their 50-40 victory at Scunthorpe Scorpions on Monday that the signs are positive for another rewarding season.
Monarchs picked up seven league points against the Scorpions in total following their big home win on Friday, but Masters admitted he never relishes the trip to the Eddie Wright Raceway. “I just don’t like the place, it isn’t so much about the shape of the circuit, it’s the actual track surface, it’s strange. I was happy to have scored nine points and it was great to get a quick double over them. But everybody in the team pulled together, especially over the second half.”
He added: “It’s far too early to say if we’ll go on a long winning run like we did last year. The side is coming together quite nicely. But the team spirit is not as good as last season, but we all get along and that’s the important thing.”
The biggest threat to Monarchs’ back-to-back title aspirations will come from arch rivals Glasgow Tigers, Masters believes. “Glasgow have got the best team in the Premier League and we have to meet them quite a few times. They have already beaten us in the League Cup at Ashfield, they have riders who can all win races.”
The visit of Newcastle always throws up the prospect of a tough clash. Masters said: “We are certainly not going into the meeting thinking it will be easy, but it’s usually interesting against them.”
The Diamonds have also undergone a switch to their riding order, with Lewis Kerr occupying the No.1 slot, swapping places with Stevie Worrall, who was such a lucky talisman for Monarchs at reserve in 2014. Worrall drops to No.3, maintaining his partnership with another former Monarch, Christian Henry. Monarchs continue to use the rider replacement for injured Erik Riss, which gives extra outings to Max Clegg, Rob Branford, and in-form Kevin Wolbert, who was Monarchs’ top scorer at Scunthorpe.