Edinburgh Monarchs are set to cash in on Craig Cook’s departure from Armadale after a glorious five-year spell by selling their prized asset to his Elite League side Belle Vue Aces, who are expected to retain the Englishman for the 2016 speedway campaign.
His sale – likely to fetch between £30,000 and £40,000 – would earn Monarchs a much-needed financial windfall. Monarchs chairman Alex Harkess told the Evening News: “Our options are open to anything. Presuming he stays with Belle Vue without actually knowing at the moment, it would be our plan to sell him to them. It would make good business sense.”
Cook’s decision to quit Monarchs to concentrate on racing in Europe has taken some of the strain out of their team building plans for next season. Without having to accommodate Cook’s double figure average which bit hard into their overall 42.05 points limit this season, Monarchs would be able to retain five of this year’s championship winning side and still have around six points to play with.
Harkess said: “It was difficult to a degree this year because of Craig’s high average but now he has left, it points us in a certain direction now as to how we construct our squad for next season.
“We are never going to be able to replace Craig, certainly not in the short term. To find a rider who has progressed to the level Craig reached, that does not happen too often. But it is the right decision for Craig and the one he wanted, so that is acceptable to the club.”
Harkess revealed that Cook’s exit was not a bolt from the blue, explaining: “We have been aware of it for some time, it has not been sprung upon us. It is time to move on and the club wish Craig every success in the future and we will always back him.”
Monarchs snapped up Cook when Workington Comets surprisingly released him at the end of 2010 and Harkess said it wasn’t hard to pinpoint his special qualities: “He always had the capability and was always able to beat anybody at any time. I hope he progresses to the Grand Prix series to show people exactly what he can do.
“One man doesn’t make a team and each rider can only score 15 points in most matches. A team needs 45 points to win a match so it requires everybody in a side to do their bit.
“But it does make it easier if you get off to a good start and a good finish. And that is something Craig gave us in abundance.”
The challenge for Monarchs to win three league titles in a row is immense. “The rules should never allow you to win it twice in succession,” said Harkess. “And it certainly will be much more difficult now, but we will do our best as we have been doing for the last 25 years. I’m sure we will endeavour to track as good a side as possible.”
Harkess revealed that most of last season’s side want to come back. Sam Masters is expected to be the new No.1. Masters will double-up again in 2016 but not with Leicester Lions as he did in 2015.
“We have been dabbling about next year’s line-up for the last seven months,” added Harkess. “We are now starting to approach riders who are automatic choices in our team. The only exception is Rob Branford who cannot fit in at reserve.” This is down to new rules which state all clubs must include a three-point British rider who is eligible for the National League to fill one of the tail-end berths, something Harkess does not agree with.
“Because we are getting riders at a lower level now and they are in great demand, they are asking for more money than you would normally pay.
“They don’t want to drive five hours to a track in the north just to score one or two points, they’ll get fed-up very quickly. I don’t get the new rule at all. For us it is trying to find a suitable candidate.
“It’s not impossible to win three titles in a row. But we are having to de-strengthen more than any team in the league, and that makes it hard.”
One thing is for sure, all of Monarchs’ Premier League rivals will be rubbing their hands with glee over the exit of Cook feeling they now have a golden opportunity to end Monarchs’ recent domination of the major silverware in the second tier.