Premier League Preview 2006
Predicted finishing positions relate to the league section of the championship.
For a long time this winter it seemed that the Bandits may be dropping out of the league, thankfully it didn't come to that and they're in their usual place. Adrian Rymel and Michal Makovsky return for a sixth consecutive season in the black and gold and both are proven heatleaders. They're joined in the top three by newcomer Andreas Bergstrom. The Swede made a favourable impression when riding in a meeting at Glasgow and is tipped to lead the team's averages. Lee Smethills and David Meldrum rejoin the Bandits after spending time elsewhere and both have enjoyed good spells with the club in the past. Meldrum's form has always been erratic but it's not so long ago that he was posting high scores for the Bandits. Their real trump card could be Craig Branney in the number six berth. He's one of the best riders to be given a reserve rating and he will score points home and away. Danny Warwick has been given the nod at number seven after impressing at practice.
Verdict:Peter Waite has tried to put together a low cost team that will challenge for the title and he may just have the ingredients correct.
Key man: Craig Branney. Could be good for regular double figures from the reserve berth.
The Monarchs well balanced side exceeded all expectations last season and they've gone for a similar set up this time around. Rusty Harrison and Theo Pijper stepped up to heatleader status last term, with Harrison proving to be an acceptable number one. They've lost Ross Brady and Cameron Woodward during the winter and the only new recruit is Henrik Moller who has joined on loan from Peterborough. Matthew Wethers and William Lawson return in middle order roles and the Monarchs will need them to deliver on a consistent basis. Both riders have potential and have the handy knack of chipping in with a big score when required. Derek Sneddon gets a well-deserved recall in the reserve berth where he'll be joined by local prospect Sean Stoddart. The Monarchs had trouble securing heat wins last season and that may prove to be their Achilles heel once again.
Verdict:Look a little short on top-end firepower but solidity should ensure they're not disgraced.
Key man: Henrik Moller. If he doesn't prove to be of heatleader class then the Monarchs may struggle.
That Glasgow are running at all is surprising, back in November that looked fairly unlikely as financial and environmental problems conspired against them. In view of those financial problems it's rather surprising to see both Shane Parker and Danny Bird in the Tigers team. That gives them an even more formidable spearhead than the Parker/Stancl double act of recent years. The points taken up by those two leaves little to play with further down the line. Kauko Nieminen fills the third heatleader role but he'll need to add consistency to his game or the Tigers may prove to be little more than a two man side on occasions. David McAllan and Lee Dicken have been given numerous chances in the past but have never been wholly convincing over a long period. McAllan did well for Edinburgh in an 11 match spell last season but needs to prove it wasn't a flash in the pan. Tigers did look to have one of the most impressive reserve pairings in the league in James Cockle and Adam Roynon. Cockle has shown that he can post high scores on an infrequent basis and Roynon looked good last term. Roynon has now been ruled out through injury and Robert Ksiezak comes in to replace him. Ksiezak started well at Edinburgh in 2005 but injury took some of the sparkle off his performances.
Verdict:Top heavy approach won't win them anything other than the pairs.
Key man: David McAllan. Tigers need to him to demonstrate a consistency that he's lacked in the past.
ISLE OF WIGHT ISLANDERS
The Islanders once again track a team that's difficult to assess, it's certainly the team that contains the least experience of British racing. The loss of Craig Boyce is a huge blow as his guaranteed high returns have taken the pressure of the younger team members. Chris Holder joins with a huge reputation and the Islanders will need to hope he settles into a consistent scoring vein from the off. Krzysztof Stojanowski made a huge impact last season and may well emerge as the Islanders new number one. Jason Doyle enjoyed a decent debut season in 2005 and has the potential to add a point to his six point average. Krister Marsh has been around long enough now to know the score and he can be relied upon to chip in with solid middle order returns. Robert Kasprzak is the only truly unknown quantity in the team, if he's anything like his brother than the Islanders could do very well indeed. Chris Johnson and Nick Simmons start the season at reserve and should have the experience to post decent returns.
Verdict:Very much the unknown quantities in this year's championship. Will become difficult to beat at Smallbrook but may struggle on the road where their inexperience will be exposed.
Key man: Chris Holder. Will be expected to settle into a high scoring groove from day one.
KING'S LYNN STARS
The Stars will be looking to build on last season's successes and look well placed to do so. Tomas Topinka enjoyed a tremendous 2005 and he gives the side a genuine out-and-out number one. Daniel Nermark has signed up after his disappointing spell with Edinburgh and the suspicion is that he's a better rider than his average suggests. The real strength of the Stars is in their Aussie duo of Kevin Doolan and Troy Batchelor. Doolan seems to get slightly better with each passing season without ever really hitting the high spots, but he's one of the best second strings in the game. Batchelor demonstrated considerable ability and potential in his debut season and seems to be on the fast track to the top. Trevor Harding returns to his 2004 side and is another Aussie of undoubted potential. Chris Mills and Simon Lambert get the first crack at the reserve berths.
Verdict:Will definitely be in the mix when the honours are handed out. They have both a solid side and a high scoring number one.
Key man: Daniel Nermark. Has the ability to average nine points a meeting at this level. If he does that then the Stars may be unstoppable.
MILDENHALL FEN TIGERS
The PL newcomers pulled off a major coup when they snapped up Jason Lyons from Belle Vue. The Milduran scored well in this division in 2004 and is likely to do no less well this time around. Shaun Tacey and Daniel King fill the other heatleader berths. Locally based Tacey is a man of many clubs who can be relied upon to score points on any circuit. King has reaped the benefits of early exposure to Elite League racing and did well for Rye House last term. Jason King lines up alongside his younger brother and is likely to fill a second string berth along with Jon Armstrong. James Brundle and Barry Burchatt complete the lineup. The Fen Tigers may find it possible to build up an early home advantage as several of the side have ridden for the club in the Conference League at some point. For many of the visitors a new experience awaits in the Fens.
Verdict: Despite the presence of Lyons it's hard to see them challenging for trophies - unless King senior, Brundle or Burchatt show dramatic improvement.
Key man: Jason King. The Fen Tigers need him to develop into his second string role to take some pressure off the bottom end.
George Stancl has finally made the long rumoured move from Glasgow and should be a good capture for the Diamonds. He joins up with compatriot Josef Franc and old friend James Grieves to form a three pronged attack that should serve Newcastle well. The Diamonds will hope that at least two of the threesome will score well in each meeting. Certainly Stancl should offer something on the larger tracks that Grieves and Franc couldn't last year. Manuel Hauzinger is an interesting addition to the Geordie ranks and if he proves to be a trump card then the Diamonds could find themselves in contention. Christian Henry and Jamie Robertson return again and young Adam McKinna gets his chance at reserve.
Verdict: A solid side that will probably end up around the middle of the table.
Key man: Manuel Hauzinger. If he proves to be a 7 point man then the Diamonds will be in business.
Things can surely only get better for the Welsh side after two disastrous seasons. Craig Watson returns from injury and his presence alone should inspire his team-mates to better performances than last term. Neil Collins enjoyed his best season in years in 2005 and his recall was inevitable, more of the same this year would delight the Wasps diehards. The reliable Tony Atkin will once again fill a middle order slot where he'll be joined by Chris Schramm and Carl Wilkinson. Wilkinson got his career back on track with Berwick, as indeed did Schramm, but can he maintain that level of scoring back in Wales? Joel Parsons joins from Hull and has been given dispensation, despite being an Aussie, to start at reserve.
Verdict: The return of Watson is a major boost but the Wasps look set for another season of struggle.
Key man: Carl Wilkinson. Newport need him to maintain the form he showed last season.
The Bears return and pull off a major coup by signing Gary Havelock. Surprisingly he is the first World Champion to move down into the lower division. Many of the tracks will be new to Havvy but he'll still easily be good enough to attain a 10 point average. Matt Tressarieu will provide much of Havvy's support, he'll be hoping to put last season behind him. American Chris Kerr was linked with a number of clubs but the Bears are the ones with his signature on a contract. He impressed on the USA Dream Team tour but that was against Conference League opposition, may find the Premier League a little tougher than he expects. Vastly experienced Kevin Little moves in after spending last season at Workington, he's not the force of old but he remains a reliable performer. Tomas Suchanek completes the top five and he managed a 7 point home average for the Islanders last year, although his figures were only just above 2 on the road. Daniel Giffard and Jack Hargreaves get their chance at reserve.
Verdict: The Bears will be happy just to settle into the sport and their new stadium this year, trophy success will be something for future seasons.
Key man: Gary Havelock. His profile should help this new venture get off to a strong start.
RYE HOUSE ROCKETS
We tipped the Rockets to lift the title last year and they didn't let us down. They're sticking with as many of that team as the points limit allowed and they look strong once again. Robson, Neath and Kennett will be a formidable heatleader trio and Kennett may progress sufficiently to usurp the other two at the top of the averages. It's potential all the way further down the order. Tommy Allen and Steve Boxhall have been over the course before while Luke Bowen and Jamie Courtney, both sons of former Rockets, get a chance to leave their own mark on the sport. All four have the potential to put something on their starting average.
Verdict: A decent side but not as strong as last year's and perhaps inconsistency and inexperience in the middle order will hinder their chances?
Key man: Tommy Allen. A rider of obvious potential but he'll be under pressure to score on a regular basis.
It seems unthinkable to see a Tigers team that doesn't include Sean Wilson. The veteran will be missed both off and on the track. Andre Compton steps up to the plate as number one and captain and will be under greater pressure than ever to deliver. His main support will come from Emiliano Sanchez and Ricky Ashworth. Sanchez becomes an asset of the club after Hull's closure and he is being tipped as a key rider in their away meetings. Ashworth has mastered Owlerton but his away scores sometimes leave much to be desired, Tigers will need much more from him on the road. Canadian Kyle Legault retains his place in the side after a reasonably impressive debut season and much the same can be said for Paul Cooper. Ben Wilson and Benji Compton complete the team.
Verdict: This doesn't look to be one of Sheffield's strongest sides but their colossal home scoring will see them right.
Key man: Ricky Ashworth. Sheffield need him to contribute more away from Owlerton if they want to challenge.
Magnus Zetterstrom will lead the Rebels again and they'll be mightily pleased about that. His strong scoring last year often masked below par performances from some of his team mates and he was a popular visitor on his travels. Glenn Cunningham and Paul Fry will again slot in to provide his principal support. Cunningham has never fully realised the potential he showed earlier in his career but he has proven to be a reliable heatleader at this level. Fry just keeps on going and he'll be a valuable asset for the Rebels once again this year. The Rebels can boast one of the most impressive middle-orders in the league in Jamie Smith and Pavel Ondrasik. Smith is still waiting to make the big-breakthrough and perhaps now it's not going to happen. Ondrasik has never recaptured the form he showed for Trelawny a few years ago but as the 'fifth man' in any side he's going to be a danger. Young Ben Barker has recovered from the injuries he picked up with Exeter and he will line up at reserve with Simon Walker.
Verdict: A very solid side that, on paper, looks to have title potential. The question mark is whether they can pick up enough wins on the road, particularly in the North.
Key man: Magnus Zetterstrom. Did tremendously well last season and needs to maintain those high standards throughout 2006.
The Potters go into the new season with Paul Pickering and Jan Staechmann still on the injured list from accidents in early 2005! The two veterans have been replaced by another couple of 'oldies' in Michael Coles and Mark Lemon. Coles endured a miserable year at Newport last time out but he's still a rider with enough talent to score well on any track and in any conditions. Lemon is now firmly settled in PL racing and the recordbooks show that he's a top scorer at this level. Alan Mogridge has signed on for another season with the Potters and his form enjoyed something of a renaissance last year. Robbie Kessler, Paul Clews and Barrie Evans retain their places and are all known quantities. Kessler managed to overcome his injury jinx last year but his form wasn't perhaps as good as the Potters anticipated. Clews seems to be destined for a career in the middle-order of sides but on occasion his high scores can swing close matches the Potters way. Evans will be joined in the reserve berths by Luke Priest.
Verdict: The Stoke sides of recent seasons have always looked good on paper but have failed to deliver any real success. This season will be no different.
Key man: Michael Coles. Looked a spent force at times last season but has the character to come bouncing back to heatleader status.
No Carl Stonehewer for the Comets this time around, he's still out with the injuries that ruined his testimonial season. Instead the Comets have recruited the redundant Garry Stead and Paul Thorp from Hull. James Wright will form the third component of the heatleader trio and he'll be looking to finish the season as top dog. Tomasz Piszcz impressed with his efforts for the side last year and he's handed another chance in 2006. Surprise signing Ritchie Hawkins completes the top five and should do well enough once he settles in. The Comets have perhaps landed lucky at reserve by getting Aidan Collins assessed as a 'grade A' rider, many expecting him to be barred from the position on the grounds of his previous performances. He's always done very well at reserve but struggled on promotion to the top five. With a guaranteed full season in the comfort zone he should post some big scores. Lee Derbyshire becomes the latest Buxton graduate to move from the Peak District to Cumbria and he completes the side.
Verdict: A decent heatleader trio and an excellent reserve could be the building blocks for success. Expect them to be nearer the top than the bottom.
Key man: Aidan Collins. Potentially the best reserve in the league, his high scores could swing many matches in Workington's favour.
This article was first published on 10th March 2006
"Sheffield in 11th, that's really quiet laughable! The writer of this clearly knows as much about speedway as I do about brain surgery. A team that will win every home meeting and win most bonus points is going to finish a lot higher than 11th. Anyway, it will be nice to see me proved right. Watch the kid Legault by the way, he's pure class. If he stays injury free for the season he's set to make a massive impression."
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