Speedway - Panthers snap up Polish rider to replace Greenwood

New Panthers signing Rafal Konopka. Picture: Colin Poole
New Panthers signing Rafal Konopka. Picture: Colin Poole
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Panthers have given Polish racer Rafal Konopka the chance to swap a Premier league basement battle for a title challenge.

The 22 year-old has been snapped up as a replacement for axed reserve Ollie Greenwood and will make his debut when the city side entertain Plymouth at the East of England Showground on Sunday (5pm).

Konopka, who was recently dropped by bottom club Redcar, finds himself thrust into the race for the play-off places and title glory with Panthers, who won their televised clash with Glasgow last night (Wednesday).

Konopka is well-known to Panthers promoter Ged Rathbone, who is based in North-East and has watched him ride for his previous club on numerous occasions.

He is confident his new recruit can prove to be a consistent source of points in the second half of the season.

Rathbone said: “I’m very hopeful that this move will allow Rafal to show everyone what he is about.

“A lot of people will think it is a gamble to bring him in, but I think that can be said of any signing a team makes.

“I have seen more than enough of Rafal riding for Redcar in the past year to believe he can score us a few points.

“We will be working hard with him to make sure his machinery is up to scratch and hopefully the Showground track will suit him.

“He often deserved more points than he actually scored for Redcar and that was usually down to the fact he tried ambitious overtaking moves which didn’t come off.

“He was under pressure to score plenty of points up there due to the make-up of the Redcar team, but we do not expect him to go out and win every race at all costs.

“He is a three-point rider and we need him to ride sensibly to ensure he scores to his average or slightly more.”

Konopka arrived in British speedway early last season when drafted into the Redcar team after another of their riders, former Panthers title-winner Richard Hall, was banned for 30 days.

He retained his place for the rest of the 2014 campaign and was again handed a spot in the Bears one-to-seven for the current campaign.

His best return for Redcar this season with a paid 12-point haul in a late-April victory over Rye House.

Konopka scored two points from three rides when Redcar drew at the East of England Showground last summer.

Panthers released British Under 19 champion Greenwood earlier this week by mutual consent. He was due to make a farewell appearance against Glasgow last night.

The 20 year-old has been out-of-sorts throughout the opening half of the 2015 season.

Rathbone added: “Ourselves and Ollie part on very good terms as we all felt releasing him was the right thing to do.

“We had no choice really as we had been concerned about his form for some time – and Ollie was just as concerned about it himself.

“He has done his utmost to try to turn his performances around and despite getting plenty of assistance, it just hasn’t happened.

“We hope a fresh start will help him get his season going.”

* The Premier League clash against Plymouth forms part of a packed programme of racing on Sunday.

The Showground stages the British 125cc Final for the second successive year with the action getting under way at 4pm.

The main meeting follows at 5pm before the Peterborough Thundercats complete the bill in Midland Development League action.

* Panthers again turn to Australian talent Brady Kurtz to lead their charge against Plymouth.

The teenager will guest for the third successive home meeting as the city team bid to avenge their recent KO Cup exit at the hands of the Devils.