Edinburgh Monarchs will begin their quest for a sixth league crown with an opening home Championship fixture against East Midlands side Leicester Lions, who dropped down from the Elite League during the winter.
The Lions are managed by former Glasgow gaffer Stewart Dickson and are captained by Scott Nicholls, who was one of the top visiting riders at Armadale last season.
Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess said: “It should be an interesting fixture for us. Scott did exceptionally well round Armadale last year.
“Obviously we want to get off to a winning start and this should provide us with what could be a stiff test for our new-look team.”
Harkess said Monarchs aim this season is no different to any other. “We want to make the play-offs again,” he said. “It was disappointing that we missed out last term and we want to avoid that happening again.”
The key to a successful league campaign could well depend on how much progress Monarchs Australian starlet Josh Pickering makes.
Said Harkess: “It could be a big year for Josh and he very much should be putting his mark on a heat leader role in 2019.
“He certainly has the ability and he knows himself it could be an important year in terms of furthering his speedway career.”
Monarchs’ all-Scottish reserve pairing of new boy Luke Ruddick and William Lawson will undoubtedly play a significant role. Harkess said: “A lot of the other teams in the Championship are running with weak reserve pairings so it vitally important that Luke and William can defeat their opposite numbers at Armadale.
“William is the more experienced of the two and has promised me his equipment will be up to scratch. If it is, we should see some good scores from him. Luke, we are not expecting miracles from him. If he lives up his starting average very week, we’ll be more than satisfied with that.
“It’s vital that our reserves are dominant round Armadale.”
Monarchs ran up a slew of heavy 60-point scores during 2018 which came at a huge cost with regards to riders wages, but talk of preventing it happening again was dismissed by Harkess who said: “There is nothing you can do about you cannot tell riders not to win and not to do their best. You just have to accept it will happen because riders are there to win races.
“The one-sided nature of some of the matches last year was not particularly good for spectators, but what can you do.”
Monarchs have also been drawn against Scunthorpe Scorpions in the Knockout Cup quarter-finals, with the away first leg coming too early in the season according to Harkess, who said: “The first tie takes place in April it should be held in the middle of the season at least.
“Nevertheless we have always done well at Scunthorpe in the league in the past, we have a good record down there. So we are hopeful of doing well.”
The Championship division this season has been reduced to 11 teams following the withdrawal of Workington Comets two weeks ago. The Cumbrian side say they require funding of up to £100,000 to return in 2020.
“Their non-participation was a disappointment for the whole league but not a shock,” added Harkess.
MONARCHS’ 2019 FIXTURES
April 12: Spring Spectacular (Challenge)
April 19: Newcastle (Championship Shield)
April 26: Glasgow (Championship Shield)
May 3: Berwick (Championship Shield)
May 10: TBC
May 17: Leicester
May 24: Sheffield
June 7: Scottish Open Championship
June 14: Scunthorpe (KO Cup)
June 21: Redcar
June 28: Glasgow
July 5: Caledonian Riders Championship
July 12: Newcastle
July 19: Somerset
July 26: Berwick
August 2: Scunthorpe
August 16: Eastbourne
August 23: Birmingham
Sept 6: Glasgow (Scottish Cup)
April 14: Scunthorpe (KO Cup)
April 21: Newcastle (Championship Shield)
April 28: Glasgow (Championship Shield)
May 4: Berwick (Championship Shield)
May 22: Birmingham
May 26: Redcar
June 8: Leicester
June 15: Berwick
June 30: Glasgow
July 6: Eastbourne
July 14: Newcastle
August 4: Scunthorpe
August 11: Sheffield
August 14: Somerset
Sept 8: Glasgow (Scottish Cup)
• All meetings Championship unless otherwise stated.