Monarchs stars are quids in due to rider shortage

Sam Masters, far left, and Craig Cook, second from right, are in demand. Pic: Ron MacNeill
Sam Masters, far left, and Craig Cook, second from right, are in demand. Pic: Ron MacNeill
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The current dearth of riders in British speedway has provided certain Edinburgh Monarchs stars with a big financial boost. The Capital squad are in high demand for guest bookings across the country and if the situation continues, some of Monarchs’ leading racers could be quids in by the end of the campaign.

Even Monarchs’ reserve duo Rob Branford and Max Clegg are being courted by other clubs. Clegg, for example, guested for rivals Glasgow Tigers in their 46-43 reverse at Newcastle 
Diamonds last weekend.

With foreign excursions on the increase and the doubling-up duties undertaken by Craig Cook and Sam Masters, Monarchs’ 2015 squad are surely among the busiest Premier League septet. Masters has signed a deal to ride for Elite League Leicester Lions, having unravelled the visa red tape which had previously strangled his attempt to make such a move in 2014.

For Monarchs team 
manager Alex Harkess, the 
extra opportunities offered to his riders is a double-edged sword, with concerns over possible injuries while turning out for a team other than Monarchs being a principal worry.

Harkess confessed he isn’t doing cartwheels over Masters, but explained the background to the Leicester agreement. “The visa criteria changed in April whereby somebody who is already in this country can have secondary employment, so Sam has taken out a second visa and can now ride for Leicester,” said Harkess “That wasn’t allowed in years gone past, but the situation surrounding visas is an ever changing one, and it’s difficult to keep up with all the changes going on.

“As for Sam doubling-up I was just as happy when he wasn’t. But you cannot stand in their way to earn money. The amount of phone calls we get for members of the team to make guest appearances is incredible and you end up saying they are already riding for somebody else.

“Rob, for instance, could have probably ridden in three 
matches on Monday had he been capable of doing so. And this is all happening because there is a shortage of riders at the moment due to a fair amount of injuries which have affected some clubs. Doubling-up makes the position even scarcer. A rider is often racing for one club and his other club is looking for a guest.

“And the first place people turn to when they are looking for guests is a team who is going well, the mentality being if a certain individual is riding well for Edinburgh then they’ll try us first.”

Harkess is aware that an excess of meetings increases the injury fear. He said: “I was amazed last season when 
Stevie Worrall almost made it to the end of the campaign before he finally got injured given the amount of matches he rode. He got injured in September and you think, ‘how the heck did he manage that’.

“To be honest, I would rather Sam and Craig doubled-up as opposed to riding in Poland. The Polish engagements scare the life out of me.”

Meanwhile, a full-strength Monarchs side welcome Workington Comets to Armadale 
tonight for a Premier League encounter which looks, on 
paper, to be a pretty straightforward mission for the Capital outfit, who brushed their visitors aside 56-37 in their League Cup clash earlier in the season.

Harkess said: “We’ll take it as it comes and will look for the same solid performance which we produced against them on the previous occasion.”

Workington will track 
former Monarchs skipper 
Matthew Wethers, who has been drafted in to replace the injured Rusty Harrison. Wethers was earmarked for the Comets during the winter before the visa shambles ruled that out at the time.

Wethers has put that behind him now and has picked up seven points in the three meetings he has ridden so far and Comets owner Laura Morgan is delighted to have him on board at last.

“It’s nice that we have been able to offer Matthew his chance with us and I’m sure once he gets dialled into the track he will do a good job for the Comets,” she said. “He has already fitted into the team quite comfortably and brings a lot of experience with him. He is also a nice guy.”

Craig Cook has been left out of the Team GB starting quartet for their World Cup crunch tie against Latvia, USA, and Australia at King’s Lynn next month and while some Monarchs’ supporters feel he has been snubbed, Cook hasn’t done himself any favours with his attitude towards Team GB previously. Sometimes that can count against you.