Edinburgh Monarchs v Newcastle Diamonds

PREVIEW Tuesday 22nd March 2011, 12:00pm

by Gordon Fraser

Edinburgh Monarchs kick off their new speedway season at Armadale this Friday (25th March) at 7.30 with a very serious challenge match in the first leg of the Premier Shield against the Newcastle Diamonds.

With the Scotwaste Monarchs being the 2010 Premier League Champions and the Sapphire Engineering Diamonds being the 2010 KO Cup winners, both sides were penalised for their success by having to lose riders to come back within the 2011 team building points limit.

Out go last year's top two Premier riders, Flyin' Ryan Fisher from the blue and gold and Kenni Larsen from the black and whites. That apart, Monarchs have made only one other enforced change due to William Lawson's decision to sit out the season, whereas Diamonds have four new faces in total.

Rene Bach becomes the main Dane on Tyneside by moving up to the No.1 slot where he is paired with Monarchs' new top man, Kevin Wolbert, the young German rider who burst onto the UK scene in 2009 and who will be looking to push ahead after a year of consolidation in 2010.

Monarchs' newest captain, Matthew Wethers, faces their popular former captain, Derek Sneddon, at No.2. Matty should have shaken off the jet lag after a later than planned flight from Australia but will not have managed much in the way of preparation or practice.

The mercurial talent that is Andrew Tully rides at No.3 this year where he will face the 25-year-old Czech Republic rider, Lubos Tomicek. This third generation speedway rider begins his ninth UK season, having last appeared for the Diamonds in 2005 and 2006.

Edinburgh's prize winter capture, Craig Cook, could scarcely face a tougher test in his first home match for his new club than lining up against the highly experienced 34-year-old Stuart Robson who has dropped down from the Elite League due to a recent change in the rules on averages.

The spectacular Finn, Kalle Katajisto, makes a welcome return to action where he will have to be at his best to contain the revitalised Aussie, Mark Lemon at No.5. At the age of 38, the popular Armadale visitor and frequent guest is riding as well as he has ever done.

At No.6, Wolverhampton-born Ashley Morris will line up for his first full Premier League season against another up-and-coming British rider, Kyle Newman from Poole who will be full of confidence following a very successful winter as part of the Young Lions tour to Australia.

Monarchs' last-gasp signing, Jay Herne from Sydney, begins his Edinburgh career at No.7 where he faces the least experienced of the fourteen riders on show, former moto-cross racer Ritchie Worrall from St Helens who is in his Premier League debut season.

So the two sides look as evenly matched as ever. But the difference this time could be that while this will be Monarchs' first match of the season, Newcastle will be match sharp having beaten the exciting new Berwick Bandits both home and away last weekend.

Both sides will also be having their first look at the re-profiled Scotwaste Arena track, which may even out any potential home advantage until Monarchs have a few matches under their belts. But the fans won't complain if it makes the racing is even better, as promised.

But most worrying for Edinburgh are the reports that Newcastle's riders were much quicker out of the tapes than the Berwick septet since Armadale sides have never been famous for their lightning starts in recent seasons. Hopefully Craig Cook will change all that!

So perhaps not too much should be read into this match in terms of how the season will pan out, as it will take the usual time for both sides to settle in for much more important fixtures that lie ahead. But it should still be a cracker to launch an exciting speedway season.

Likely line-ups:

SCOTWASTE MONARCHS: Kevin Wolbert, Matthew Wethers (capt.), Andrew Tully, Craig Cook, Kalle Katajisto, Ashley Morris, Jay Herne.

DIAMONDS: Rene Bach, Derek Sneddon (capt.), Lubos Tomicek, Stuart Robson, Mark Lemon, Kyle Newman, Richie Worrall.