Edinburgh Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess thinks new arrival Sam Masters has the capability and potential to push team-mate Craig Cook all the way for the No. 1 spot at Armadale next season.
Cook had things pretty much his own way this year and cried out for more support on occasions, but faces getting knocked off his perch if Masters displays anything like the form which won him the Premier League Riders’ Championship crown in 2011.
“Sam should be among the top handful of riders in the Premier League next season,” said Harkess. “He is certainly good enough and we hope this is the level he will attain – that’s what we think we have signed and it’s what we’re looking for.”
Despite Masters missing out on this year’s UK campaign because of a visa wrangle, Harkess, while not cast-iron certain, doesn’t feel this will place the Australian rider at a disadvantage when hostilities begin next March. “He has been doing some riding in Australia and while this can’t be compared to the competitive edge of the Premier League here, Sam is young enough and fit enough and should not be adversely affected by having been forced to sit this season out – although time will tell on that.”
Armadale is unlikely to spook Masters, who in his last appearance there in 2012 piled up 14 points guesting for Scunthorpe Scorpions, which effectively ended Monarchs’ play-off aspirations.
Harkess recalled: “He did that virtually on his own and had it not been for him, we would have been in the finals, so we know that our track holds no fears for him and expect big things from him.”
While Masters was always destined to join Monarchs, the Capital outfit had to repel moves from Scunthorpe, who embarked on a mission to snatch the rider for themselves last week.
Harkess explained: “I was surprised at that, I’ve got to say. Everybody knew Sam should have been in our side this year and we kept in contact with him and he was never in any way negative about coming to Edinburgh for 2014.
“We told him that while we knew he wouldn’t ride for us this season, we would keep a space for him next year, so I was surprised that another club got involved after we had offered him a berth.
“Sam is owned by Somerset and we always had permission from them to speak to him. I don’t understand the Scunthorpe scenario, but it’s worked out in our favour in the end, and that’s the main thing.”
If Masters works in tandem with Cook then Monarchs, without question, will have an extremely potent top-end spearhead. “It looks a very strong top two on paper,” said Harkness. “I have absolutely no doubt that Craig will score and if Sam lives up to his potential, then we should have a very powerful-looking scoring duo.
“This should mean a big advantage in heats 13 and 15, which, in theory, will give us a very strong finish.”
Masters says he is “stoked” at finally joining Monarchs, despite having to wait 12 months to get the green light.
“Edinburgh really was the only place I ever wanted to be,” he said. “I did receive offers from certain other teams but I was never going to change my mind about riding for Edinburgh. I know some people might be worried that I haven’t raced in the UK for a year, but I’m enthusiastic and confident about picking up my career again.
“I haven’t been idle. I have been riding in what they call the ‘Ten Round’ series of meetings here in Australia, but I’ll need some bikes when I come across after I sold the two I had in 2012.”
Masters is well aware that Cook has already acquired legendary status at Armadale and said: “Yeah, I’ve heard he is a pretty good bloke and I’ve been told he did a fantastic job for Edinburgh last season. I’m really looking forward to riding alongside the guy.”
Masters would like to bag a doubling-up spot in the Elite League. However, new rules which compel all ten top-flight clubs to hire National League riders to staff their two reserve positions could thwart his hopes.
“I read about the new rules,” he added, “and for someone like me who has an average of over seven, it might be difficult, but hopefully someone might pick me up.”
Monarchs’ other new addition, Steve Worrall, has been picked by Swindon Robins as one of their reserves in the Elite League for 2014. Worrall, in fact, will race in all three divisions next year.
“I’m chuffed to be riding for Swindon,” he said. “It’s going to be a pretty hectic season for me, but that’s the way I prefer it – keeping busy suits me just fine.”