Monarchs aim to leave league leaders Somrset behind

Berwick's stylish performer Thomas Jorgensen replaces Erik Riss
Berwick's stylish performer Thomas Jorgensen replaces Erik Riss
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Edinburgh Monarchs have enjoyed little luck with the wretched weather this season but thanks to results elsewhere they have linched their place in the Premier League play-offs.

It means they no longer have to sweat over the outcome of tonight’s clash with league leaders Somerset Rebels at Armadale.

Monarchs can finish no worse than sixth and fourth is now within their grasp which would set up a probable quarter-final tie against a resurgent Ipswich Witches.

Team manager Alex Harkess has drummed it into his riders to make sure they capture all three points at stake which would definitely seal that fourth position.

Monarchs can probably see something of themselves in this year’s Somerset side who have only lost two league matches in 2016.

They are also through to the last four of both the Knockout and League Cup competitions which mirrors the exalted position Monarchs found themselves in during their treble-winning campaign in 2014.

Harkess said: “I suppose there are comparisons with what we did two years ago but Somerset have used more guest riders than us this year.”

And as if to underline this the Rebels have three of their regular side doubling-up for Swindon Robins at Lakeside tonight and will employ Ricky Wells, Victor Palovaara and Ludvig Lindgren as stand-in replacements, which in no way weakens them.

It’s a bit of a bugbear and Harkess commented: “To have three riders racing for the same Elite League team is quite scandalous to be truthful but that’s the way it is.”

Monarchs are keen to preserve their 100 per cent league record at Armadale and that should be incentive enough for them to turn in a sparkling show.

Additionally Monarchs also want to avenge their heavy 57-35 reverse at Somerset last month.

Monarchs too, will have to avail themselves of the guest rider facility to cover for the absent Erik Riss who is involved in the World Under-21 Championship this weekend.

Berwick’s stylish performer Thomas Jorgensen, who scored ten points for his team at the Lothian Arena in July, replaces Riss.

There is also a slim chance that reserve Dan Bewley could make his comeback from injury. The youngster has had two try-outs this week but Harkess cautioned: “We are leaving it up to him and it’s only an outside chance he’ll ride, no more than that.”

Somerset, who have always challenged for honours in the second tier, have confounded some pundits who didn’t fancy their side when it was unveiled back in April but manager Garry May pointed out: “We have not won anything yet and there is a lot of hard work still to do.”

Somerset may be in a relaxed frame of mind but Monarchs will not want to be caught off guard.

Said Harkess: ”I was told by Garry that Somerset have never won at Armadale, a draw was their best result here. Somerset just want to get their league fixtures out of the way because of their involvement in both cup competitions and I can fully understand that.

“Had this been a really important fixture Somerset would not have come north with three guests.”

Monarchs will look to skipper Sam Masters to lead the line. The Aussie has been a model of consistency so far at Armadale and was unlucky to finish runner-up to two-time champion Simon Stead in Sunday’s Premier League Riders Championship at Sheffield after leading the Grand Final for two laps.

This may have been a transitional campaign for Monarchs following the departure of Craig Cook during the winter yet their dream of lifting the league title for a third year in a row remains a possibility.

“I definitely believe we can do it and I have never thought otherwise,” said Harkess. “The play-offs are basically a knockout tournament over two legs and anything can happen. What you have done or achieved over the regular programme counts for nothing now.”

Monarchs are keen to complete their outstanding fixtures against Glasgow Tigers and Peterborough Panthers which will now take place outwith the cut-off date for the play-offs.

Harkess revealed: “We wanted Peterborough to come tonight and asked them a month ago but they refused so we are trying to bring them here next Friday with our first play-off match the following week.”