Elite League Preview 2006
Predicted finishing positions relate to the league section of the championship.
ARENA ESSEX HAMMERS
The Hammers endured a torrid 2005 season and at one point it seemed unlikely they'd come to the tapes in 2006. Thankfully they're still here although they do seem to have struggled slightly to put a team together. Last season's number one Mark Loram has jumped ship and will be replaced initially by Andreas Jonsson. AJ will ride for the Hammers until Mikael Max is fit enough to replace him. It's an arrangement that seems to suit all parties and both riders will do well for the Hammers. Steve Johnson is another newcomer and he's already been handed the captaincy. Joonas Kylmakorpi is a rider who often seems to be on the verge of greatness, perhaps this will be the year in which the flying Finn really comes good? Paul Hurry seemed likely to move on during the winter but he's back for another year and Henning Bager returns after a spell with Peterborough. The Hammers have announced a number of riders to fill their number seven position but now seem to have settled on promising Pole Lukasz Romanek. It all adds up to a team that looks adequate but perhaps no more than that.
Verdict: It's difficult to see the Hammers making a major impact on the championship chase. It's an experienced side but seems to be slightly weaker than the team that disappointed last year.
Key man: Joonas Kylmakorpi. A talented rider that needs to start making the breakthrough to World Class status.
BELLE VUE ACES
The Aces finished top of the league in 2005 but missed out on the big prize in the play off final. Their team is largely unchanged from last year and Jason Crump will lead the way once again. The 2004 World Champion turns in consistently high scores week in, week out and never seems to treat the British League as anything other than a top priority. Kenneth Bjerre missed the play-offs last season but he played a massive part in getting the Aces there. He'll start the season in the second heatleader slot and, although he won't overhaul Crump, he should increase his average substantially. Joe Screen and Simon Stead are next in line and should provide entertainment and points in equal measure. Screen isn't the rider he once was but on his day he can still turn in some magical performances. Stead was a solid performer in his first season with the Aces and time is still on his side. Experienced Phil Morris and Tom Madsen have been recruited to prop up the lower order and should have the nous to help themselves to points here and there. The team will be completed by the doubling-up duo of James Wright and Tommy Allen. One would imagine that Allen's opportunities would only come when Wright was unavailable.
Verdict: The lower order is slightly weaker than last year but the Aces remain an impressive looking side. Won't be far away when the prizes are handed out.
Key man: Kenneth Bjerre. Aces will do well if he can step up a gear and give Crump consistent support in the races that matter.
Last year's champions have put together a side they believe good enough to mount a defence. After the hassle involved in purchasing Scott Nicholls it's hardly surprising that he's back in the side again this year. The British Champion is virtually guaranteed to deliver double figure scores in every meeting and his importance to the side cannot be overstated. Fellow Brit Chris Harris starts the year as the team's number two and has overcome a slightly sticky start to his Coventry career to become an important team member. He's not received the coverage that some of his contemporaries have, but perhaps that's helped him to develop outwith the glare of the spotlight. Rory Schlein missed much of last season after picking up a nasty back injury and there was some doubt as to whether he'd be offered a place this time around. He's back however and will be looking to start fulfilling his amazing potential. If he's fully fit he could pressurise Harris for that second heatleader role. Morten Risager, Martin Smolinski and Billy Janniro are also back in Bees colours and will provide good backup to the top three. Oliver Allen moves up from King's Lynn to complete the team.
Verdict: Plenty of potential in this line up but it perhaps lacks someone to support Nicholls in the all-important heats 13 and 15.
Key man: Rory Schlein. Last season was fairly disastrous for the Aussie but he's a confident boy and he will be important to the Bees.
Very much a case of 'as you were' for the Eagles. Nicki Pedersen now seems fully settled into life in Sussex and returns as the club's number one. David Norris will be looking to recapture his 2004 form after his injury affected campaign last time. Norris' long-term colleague Dean Barker lines up for the club once again and looks a steal on an average of just above five. Adam Shields is also back, though he must have been disappointed not to make more progress last season. He'll be a formidable opponent once again and the Eagles will be looking for him to challenge for regular appearances in the nominated race. Andrew Moore impressed many last season with his gutsy efforts when it would have been easier to drop down to the Premier League. A rider with that attitude deserves to succeed. Brent Werner moves up a division from Rye House and his experience alone will guarantee him points. Lewis Bridger tops that by moving up two divisions from Weymouth Wildcats. It's been a long time since a British 16 year old moved directly into the top league. Is it too much, too soon? Time will tell!
Verdict: Eastbourne never put out a weak side and this year is no different. Moore and Bridger may find the going tough but the other five should be strong enough to carry them when required.
Key man: David Norris. 'Floppy' didn't manage to repeat his 2004 heroics, partly due to injury, last season and he'll be looking to be back at his best this term.
The Witches turn back the clock to reunite Mark Loram and Chris Louis at the top of their team, the pair last riding together for the Witches in 1989! Loram will be a great signing for the Witches, not only for his scoring and entertainment value but also as a boost to their profile. Louis has made a remarkable comeback from a career threatening injury and looks set to carry on for some time yet. Piotr Protasiewicz joins them in a heatleader role and gives them a reasonably formidable top three. Robert Miskowiak and Kim Jansson rode impressively last season without receiving too many plaudits but both look capable of pushing on this year. Daniel King will continue to double up from Mildenhall and when he's not available opportunities will go to Carl Wilkinson of Newport. Jan Jaros comes in at the bottom end to make up the seven. A decent trio of heatleaders and two improving second strings looks like a formula for success. The Witches could be dark horses for a crack at the title.
Key man: Mark Loram. The former World Champion should be an effective replacement for the departed Hans Andersen and the Witches will benefit from his high scoring.
Oxford become the Cheetahs again after their spell as a Silver Machine. New promoter Aaron Lanney has also rung the changes within the team and last year's Hancock and Hamill spearhead have moved to pastures new. Recruiting a number one proved to be Lanney's biggest problem so he's solved it in an innovative way. World Champion Tony Rickardsson will start the season in that role and will be replaced in May by Todd Wiltshire. The presence of Rickardsson should ensure that the new promotion get off to a flying start on and off the track. Wiltshire's return is something of a surprise as he retired a couple of years back. Some impressive showings in the Australian championship show that he's lost none of his old dash and he should do well. David Howe moves from Wolves and is expected to provide solid support for the top man. He's a rider of undoubted potential but he needs to raise his game in the season ahead. Davey Watt also links up with the new look Cheetahs after progressing nicely with Eastbourne last year. Adam Skornicki completes a top four that looks like it may lack a little consistency. Lubos Tomicek and Adam Pietraszko step up from Newcastle and Berwick to fill lower order slots and Eric Andersson comes in to complete the side.
Verdict: An entertaining rather than particularly strong side. It's difficult to see them making the play-offs.
Key man: David Howe. He'll never have a better chance to emerge as a number one. Can he handle the pressure he'll be under?
Things seem to be much more positive at the Showground now that Colin Horton is in control. He's almost completely reassembled the Panthers side and he's done a good job. Ryan Sullivan returns to his spiritual home after his rather ineffective spell down at Poole. He's suffered with illness and personal problems over the last couple of seasons but it's not so long ago that he was challenging for the World title. Hans Andersen also returns to the Showground and he will form a powerful spearhead with Sullivan. Two more Danes - Jesper Jensen and Niels Kristian Iversen - complete a decent looking top four. Iversen will develop into a high scorer if he doesn't become distracted with his GP commitments. The bottom three look solid as well. Tomas Bajerski, Richard Hall and Ulrich Ostergaard are all riders of proven ability and they give the Panthers a real sting in the tail.
Verdict: On paper this looks a very impressive team without an obvious weak link. Will certainly be in contention at the season's end.
Key man: Ryan Sullivan. Does he still have the appetite to recover his best form and his dominance around Alwalton?
The Pirates must have been upset with the way their challenge evaporated last season and you can be sure they'll be hungrier than ever this time. Bjarne Pedersen leads the way in a side that looks solid throughout. His main support will come from the increasingly impressive Krzystof Kasprzak and Antonio Lindback. They've both developed in their time with Poole and should now be ready to provide solid support at the top end. Poole legend Craig Boyce returns to bolster the middle order and he'll be joined in there by Greg Walasek. Boyce should still be good enough to make a valuble contribution and Walasek is a reliable performer. The Davidsson brothers, Daniel and Jonas, will fill the reserve berths.
Verdict: Doesn't look as strong as some of the Poole sides of the past, but it's a solid side that will be difficult to beat at home and that will have it's moments on the road.
Key man: Bjarne Pedersen. Starts the season as number one and a lot will be asked of him in the crucial heats 13 and 15.
It's a new promotion, name, league and team for the Berkshire outfit in 2006. Greg Hancock has been snapped up as the main man and that's a shrewd capture as he never fails to deliver. Charlie Gjedde moves in on loan from Swindon to fill the second heatleader and might consider himself unlucky to have missed out on a place with the Robins. Matej Zagar makes his long-awaited move into the Elite League and is fortunate that he'll be able to do so without having to move home track. The Slovenian has already proven himself to be a world class performer and it's not inconceivable that he could end the year as the Bulldog's top scorer. The evergreen Andy Smith was recruited when it became clear that Danny Bird could not be accommodated. 'Smudger' isn't the most consistent of riders but he'll do the job that Reading require of him. Travis McGowan moves in from Oxford after impressing on Reading's northern tour last term. At reserve they have a potentially potent performer in Janus Kolodziej. The Pole made a huge impact in a handful of appearances for Reading a couple of years ago and should score heavily from a reserve position. Zdenek Simota completes the side.
Verdict: Looks like the classic blend of experience and potential in this side. Mark them down as contenders for the title.
Key man: Matej Zagar. May find it possible to carry his impressive Premier League scoring straight into the Elite League.
The twin spearhead of Adams and Richardson are retained and are guaranteed to contribute more than 20 points between them in most meetings. Sebastian Ulamek joins as third heatleader and he's proven that he's a reliable performer at Elite League level. Carrying such a strong top end always means compromises elsewhere and the Robins do look a little short of firepower at the bottom end. Renat Gafurov comes in on an assessed four point average but it's hard to say whether he'll manage more than that or not. Little is also known about Adrian Miedzinksi so the Robins as a whole are a little difficult to assess. Sebastian Alden and Mads Korneliussen do have previous form but neither can yet be considered the finished article.
Verdict: The Robins' tail seems to be a little too long for them to achieve success. However we may have underestimated their newcomers.
Key man: Renat Gafurov. The Robins need him to emerge as a solid five or six point man to take pressure off the reserves.
Most teams would struggle if their number one was ruled out through injury. For Wolves it's not a major problem as they can recall his brother to replace him! Peter Karlsson therefore returns to Monmore and they know exactly what they'll get from him. His other brother Magnus will join him in the side after a solid debut campaign in 2005. Former Cradley hero Billy Hamill crosses the Black Country divide to line up as a Wolf for the first time. Hamill's form has shaded over recent years but he's still a quality rider and he comes in on a handy seven point average. Frederik Lindgren is rewarded for an excellent 2005 by being retained for 2006, he'll be looking to challenge Hamill for the second heatleader slot. Krzysztof Pecyna was a surprise packet last season after coming in as a complete unknown, it's no surprise that he's back again. Christian Hefenbrock arrives in similar circumstances this year so we'll reserve judgement on him for a month or two. British youngsters William Lawson and Ben Wilson will share the number seven jacket, although one suspects that it's come a little too soon for both of them.
Verdict: Wolverhampton got their team building wrong last year by going for solidity. The slightly stronger top-end should serve them well this time around.
Key man: Magnus Karlsson. He's now settled into Elite League racing so it's time to start emulating his brothers' success.
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