Edinburgh Monarchs host Premiership side Wolverhampton Wolves in a daunting-looking challenge match to kick off the new speedway season at Armadale Stadium tomorrow night.
The fixture seems guaranteed to give the new-look Monarchs squad a tough work-out, with Aussie Josh Pickering hungry to show his mettle against former Monarchs skipper Sam Masters, who leads the Midlands visitors.
Said Pickering: “Sam, as we all know, is a very good rider and knows Armadale so well, but I’m always looking to have a crack at him. We’ll see how it goes.”
Pickering is keen to see further improvement to his racing career in 2019, having raised his average by over a point last season.
But Pickering, back for a third spell for Monarchs, insisted he has no plans to alter his daring round-the-boards style of riding this season, which induced heart failure among some home fans last term as he skirted with the fence in pursuit of points which produced a host of thrilling on-the-line finishes against some top opponents.
He said: “Speedway is an entertaining sport and the supporters like to see you trying as hard as you can to win races. Some guys might be silly enough to go on the outside against me, but I will be ready for them. As long as I score points for Edinburgh, I don’t really care how I do it.”
The 22 year-old does admit he needs to sharpen up his gating technique, saying: “It is always best to win from the front and I will be working on my gating this season, but at the same time it’s all about putting on a show for the fans.”
Pickering has his sights set on a heat-leader role within the squad this season and finding consistency is going to be central to his hopes.
Said Pickering: “It’s something I’ll be aiming for definitely, and there is no reason why I can’t. I’ll be riding at No.3 and that’s a position I like.
“Last year was a pretty good year for me, although you always think you should have done better but things don’t always go to plan. But I did mange to increase my average in 2018 and that will be my focus again this year.”
Pickering added: “I made some mistakes last year but your aim is to work hard and seek improvement all the time.
“Speedway is a sport when things don’t always run smoothly and it’s not always your fault, but I will be concentrating all my efforts on becoming better.”
Pickering thinks Monarchs have a strong looking squad for 2019 and certainly believes the team will be targeting major silverware over the course of the campaign, saying: “Having another two Aussies in the team (Cameron Heeps and Justin Sedgmen) is pretty cool. Cameron is a good rider and Justin is capable as well.
“A lot of the riders we have got are good solid performers. It is just a question of getting us all to perform to our true abilities at the same time, and on the same night, that’s what let us down a bit last year, which was a shame.”
Pickering would have liked a doubling-up role in the Premiership this year, but it hasn’t happened. He said: “It is a bit disappointing but in speedway everything happens for a reason. My time will come, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing until then.”
Monarchs team boss Alex Harkess said the aim in 2019 is no different to previous years. “We must get to the play-offs,” he said. “Losing out for the first time last season was a big disappointment and we really can’t afford a repeat of that failure. We want to win everything again.”
Monarchs co-promoter John Campbell insisted the key is always about his riders increasing their starting averages, stressing: “The team building average for this year was 38 points, but you will not win the league by finishing on 38. It’s about starting on 38 and finishing on 42.”
THE 2019 MONARCHS
Ricky Wells: Born Auckland, New Zealand. Age 27.
Justin Sedgmen: Born Mildura, Australia. Age 27
Cameron Heeps: Born Perth, Australia. Age 23.
Josh Pickering: Born Heddon Greta, Australia. Age 22.
Joel Andersson: Born Hardemo, Sweden. Age 23.
William Lawson: Born Perth, Scotland. Age 32.
Luke Ruddick: Born Melrose, Scotland. Age 21.