Somerset Rebels and Edinburgh Monarchs, the top two teams in the Premier League this season, seem to be entwined when it comes down to the matter of deciding the destiny of speedway’s major honours.
Monarchs, fresh from their commanding League Cup Final triumph against Glasgow Tigers, make the long trip to Somerset’s Oak Tree Arena tonight for the first leg of the Knockout Cup Final as they bid for a second successive trophy treble, which if realised, would surely earn the Capital side a unique place in shale history.
For Monarchs’ energetic Australian star, Sam Masters, the climax to this season is proving every bit as enthralling as 12 months ago. He said: “It’s awesome that we are in contention to for everything again which has underlined just how well we have all ridden this year. Nobody was quite sure if we would repeat the success we enjoyed in 2014, but we are proving we have the stamina and the team spirit which carried us to glory a year ago.”
Masters puts that down to Monarchs’ management duo of John Campbell and Alex Harkess, who steps down from his role as British Speedway Promoters’ Association chairman within the next few weeks.
Masters said: “They don’t put any pressure on you, and really, they just let us get on with the job. They keep it simple, and that’s why we are a good team. They don’t ever sack anyone, they stick by their riders through thick and thin, which is great. For instance when Erik (Riss) struggled early on, he was given the time to progress and now I think he will play a vital part in the big matches still to come for us. And if you have a bad meeting, which we all do, they don’t make a big deal of it.”
Masters, a former Rebels rider, missed Monarchs’ 51-42 victory at Somerset in the League in August due to injury. “No-one thought we had a chance that night, but I had predicted beforehand we would win, and we did. I kinda like going back, there is always a good atmosphere, but Somerset are a tough side on their own patch so we know we’ll have to fight for everything.”
Riss was the one Monarch who truly blossomed back in August as he scored 14 points which included four race victories. It was a gilt-edged contribution which turned the match in Monarchs’ favour. “We kept telling Erik to ride wide where the dirt was, and he replied he didn’t know how to do that – but he did at the end. If he can turn in a similar display we could win again,” said Masters.
Monarchs, who have faced the Rebels two years running in the Play-off Grand Final – and a third time is a distinct possibility, will also look to reserve Rob Branford to conjure up some magic on a track he candidly admits is not his favourite.
Branford scored two on his previous visit. “I struggled that particular night but now I’ve got the opportunity to prove I can ride the place, it’s going to be a tough test simply because Somerset know their own track so well.”
But Branford is in the mood after raking in seven points at Glasgow on Sunday which helped Monarchs to retain their grip on the League Cup.
The Oak Tree Arena was known as stronghold until Plymouth Devils quelled the home side just a week before Monarchs did the same. Since that blip, which was seismic bearing in mind Somerset’s long time dominance at home, they haven’t put a wheel wrong.
Monarchs are almost certain to be without German ace Kevin Wolbert who suffered a heavy fall in Germany at the weekend, sustaining neck, shoulder and hand injuries, although nothing was broken.
Harkess commented: “It’s unlikely Kevin will ride but he could be back for the deciding leg at Armadale on Friday.”
On a more positive note, reserve Max Clegg, who came to grief in the National League a week ago, is expected back in the saddle.
Meanwhile, Monarchs will face Peterborough Panthers in the Play-off semi-finals with the first leg at Peterborough this Sunday and the second leg at Armadale taking place a week on Friday.