When Edinburgh Monarchs unveiled their new race bib for 2015, nobody would have been surprised had a target featured as the main design.
For, when the Premier League programme begins next month, every team in the country will train their scoring fire on the Capital side in a bid to dethrone the defending champions.
Monarchs were the team of the year last season, skidding their way to a magnificent trophy treble. But winning a fourth league championship, as happened with their previous three triumphs, always carries a price, which is having to dismantle your band of heroes to get back within the points limit which underpins all teams in the division.
However, Monarchs’ enforced surgery did not involve too much blood letting. Certainly, the choice of Max Fricke and Steve Worrall to move into the Elite League made life easier for Monarchs team building alchemists John Campbell and Alex Harkess, who also had to cope with influential skipper Derek Sneddon’s decision to call time on his racing career.
So the cycle began once more to find seven riders to ward off Monarchs’ challengers over the next eight months. Australian star Sam Masters believes the Monarchs management have pulled something special out of the bag again and today declared: “I honestly think we will win the league again.”
Monarchs have crucially retained the nucleus of last year’s squad, and that, according to Masters, could give them the edge.
Ahead of the second leg of the Spring Trophy against Glasgow Tigers at Armadale tonight, Masters said: “It’s always hard to defend a league championship without feeling some pressure. A lot of the other teams are going to be targeting us so it’s going to be a challenging year for our team.
“I think we will win the league again. Myself, Cookie (Craig Cook) and Sedgy (Justin Sedgmen) are all back and it’s just a case of trying to pull the other boys along.”
Experienced Kevin Wolbert has rejoined Monarchs after a miserable year at Glasgow Tigers in 2014 and fellow countryman Erik Riss is the “bolt out of the blue” signing in the same way that Aaron Fox was a left field capture a year ago.
Rob Branford and Max Clegg fill the important reserve berths and picked up three points each on their debut at a sodden Ashfield last weekend when Tigers won 36-30 in the first leg of the Spring Trophy skirmish.
“Rob and Max did pretty well,” said Masters. “They did their job and that’s what they have been signed for. And I know Kevin will do some amazing things round Armadale, so that’s one improvement we’ll have at the top end. Hopefully we are all capable of adding something to our averages, and that’s the key to winning the league.”
Campbell believes that home reserves in the Premier League will dominate this season and Masters says: “You have to reckon on trying to win all your home meetings and try and nick a few points away from home. That’s the bonus we’ll be looking for,” he said.
“We have to make sure we don’t slip up at Armadale. Do that, and you can work on the other things later on in the play-offs.”
Masters added:”The start of the season is always exciting. We won everything last year and it’s going to be hard to back up what we achieved.”
Asked what strength lies within the Monarchs side this time, Masters replied: “The fact that Justin and Craig are paired together again is great because they are good together. It’s a strong partnership and should mean we start every meeting with a head start.”
Masters, who won Theo Pijper’s Testimonial event two weeks ago and was unbeaten in three rides at Ashfield, is seemingly on the rise already. But he isn’t one for navel gazing or setting personal goals.
“Nah,” he said, “If you get into all that and don’t achieve whatever target you set yourself, you get upset about it. I just want to have a better season than last.”
Monarchs smashed all kinds of records on their way to silverware heaven in 2014 including two long unbeaten sequences which blew their rivals away.
“I don’t see why we cannot do that again,” added Masters. “It was amazing we did it twice in 2014 but everything just fell into place and we went into every match thinking we couldn’t lose, and we didn’t very often!”