PREVIEW: Plummer predicts who will win the league and where the Peterborough Panthers will finish
The Peterborough Telegraph's speedway expert takes a look at the runners and riders in this year's SGB Championship and predicts where they'll finish up.
Track: Shielfield Park
Team manager: Scott Courtney
Team: Aaron Summers 7.98, Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen 6.50, Kevin Doolan 6.36, David Howe 6.18, John Lindman 5.20, Dany Gappmaier 5.11, Jye Etheridge 5.06.
Plummer’s prediction: The Borders club finished bottom last season and will do well to fare much better this term.
They have lost reigning individual riders’ champion Nick Morris (who is now with newcomers Lakeside) but that blow is somewhat offset by the arrival of another Aussie – the locally-based Summers – from Glasgow.
But the best days of Doolan and Howe are behind them and Busk Jakobsen was a disappointment for Panthers a couple of years ago. Swedish newcomer Lindman is an unknown quantity but two useful reserves should at least prove to be valuable.
Finishing position: 10th
Track: Armadale Stadium
Team manager: Alex Harkess/John Campbell
Team: Ricky Wells 8.85, Erik Riss 8.05, Mark Riss 5.68, Joel Andersson 5.20, Max Ruml 5.20, Matt Williamson 4.85, Josh Pickering 4.62.
Plummer’s prediction: The Monarchs have occupied the second-tier throne more times than any other team in recent years.
They have claimed a magnificent five league titles since 2003, but it’s unlikely that number six will follow this season.
Yes, they are always strong at home. Yes, they have a decent top duo. Yes, they have a handy pair of reserves. But the middle order could let the package down.
Finishing position: 9th
Track: Ashfield Stadium
Team manager: Cami Brown
Team: Richie Worrall 8.52, Chris Harris 8.44, Claus Vissing 6.80, Lewis Kerr 6.78, Paul Starke 6.63, James Sarjeant 3.33, Jack Thomas 2.00
Plummer’s prediction: The SGB Championship’s money men have splashed out on another useful side which includes two riders - Harris and Starke – who helped Panthers to two trophies last season.
But things have not been easy for the Scottish side. Intended reserve Jack Parkinson-Blackburn bailed days before the season started and long-serving team chief Stewart Dickson then quit days after their opening meeting. A rookie boss has taken his place and the chances are this set of Tigers will fall just short of top spot again.
Finishing position: 2nd
IPSWICH WITCHES Track: Foxhall Stadium
Team manager: Ritchie Hawkins
Team: Danny King 8.87, Rory Schlein 8.58, Nico Covatti 7.49, Cameron Heeps 6.93, Michael Hartel 5.00, Connor Mountain 3.33, Danyon Hume 2.00.
Plummer’s prediction: From bridesmaids to brides . . . that’s the transition Ipswich are likely to make this year.
The Witches were beaten in the Grand Final (when no match for champions Sheffield) and the KO Cup final (when highly unfortunate to lose to Panthers) in 2017.
They’ve retained four members (King, Schlein, Heeps and Mountain) of the team that finished 2017 and drafted back two others (Covatti and Hume) who suffered season-ending injuries early on last term. Three-time German Under 21 champion Hartel is the new man in town. Don’t be fooled by their surprise loss to Panthers last week - they will be the team to beat.
Finishing position: 1st
Track: Arena Essex Raceway
Team manager: Will Pottinger
Team: Nick Morris 8.72, Richard Lawson 8.65, Adam Ellis 7.23, Kyle Newman 6.10, Ben Morley 3.85, Zach Wajtknecht 2.63, Alfie Bowtell.
Plummer’s prediction: The Hammers clearly aren’t just making up the number after rising from the National League into the SGB Championship.
They’ve hired the reigning riders’ champion at this level (Morris), have brought back a fine performer from their top-flight days (Lawson), and boast bright British talents in Ellis (an SGB Premiership winner last season) and Wajtknecht (a fine performer against Panthers recently).
Their tight and tricky home track will also be a big help in the push for a play-off spot.
Finishing position: 5th
Track: Brough Park
Team manager: George English
Team: Ludvig Lindgren 7.21, Stuart Robson 7.02, Lewis Rose 6.49, Matt Wethers 5.65, Tero Aarnio 5.02, Carl Wilkinson 4.97, Ashley Morris 4.88.
Plummer’s prediction: A tough winter (in which their participation in the SGB Championship was under threat) unfortunately looks set to be followed by a tough season.
Delays confirming they would be at the tapes left the Diamonds limited in terms of riding options. A lack of big-hitters and little scope for improvement mean they will more than likely be propping everyone else up, but it is good to see them survive.
Finishing position: 11th
Track: East of England Arena
Team manager: Carl Johnson
Team: Scott Nicholls 9.72, Ulrich Ostergaard 7.12, Michael Palm Toft 6.77, Nike Lunna 5.90, Emil Grondal 5.04, Simon Lambert 4.56, Tom Bacon 2.67.
Plummer’s prediction: Trophies proved to be like buses for Panthers last season – they waited over a decade for one and then another came along barely a couple of months apart.
Well, now the wait begins again. Despite the presence of the best rider in the league (Nicholls) and the best reserve at this level (new captain Lambert), there is nothing to suggest that more honours will follow.
Mid-table mediocrity looks the likeliest destination for the city men in 2018.
Finishing position: 8th
REDCAR BEARS Track: Media Prima Arena
Team manager: Jitendra Duffill
Team: Ben Barker 8.15, Matej Kus 7.64, Jonas B. Andersen 6.48, Mikkel B. Andersen 5.20, Jordan Stewart 5.20, Tobias Busch 4.66, Theo Pijper 4.23.
Plummer’s prediction: A top number one in Barker, a returning star in ex-Czech champion Kus and a useful pair of reserves will ensure the Bears are competitive in 2018.
However, much will depend on how newcomers Mikkel B. Andersen – a rising Danish talent who joins his older brother on Teesside - and Stewart (a very promising Australian youngster) adapt to the demands of Britain’s second tier.
They will probably challenge for a play-off spot but ultimately fall short into the mid-table pack.
Finishing position: 7th
SCUNTHORPE SCORPIONS Track: Eddie Wright Raceway
Team manager: Dave Peet
Team: Steve Worrall 9.13, Jason Garrity 7.32, Josh Auty 6.90, Jake Allen 6.08, Stefan Nielsen 5.53, Gino Manzares 5.43.
Plummer’s prediction: Scunthorpe supremo Rob Godfrey (not a man on the Christmas card list of Panthers’ fans) is adamant he has a team capable of winning the league. He hasn’t. The Scorpions have already lost star signing Worrall to a broken leg in their first meeting last week - a seriously cruel blow. They still have plenty of quality and a potential reserve trump card in Manzares – an American rider returning to these shores after a two-year break. They will certainly snap a run of three successive years in the bottom three and may sneak a play-off spot, but anything beyond that would be a surprise.
Finishing position: 6th
Track: Owlerton Stadium
Team manager: Simon Stead
Team: Kyle Howarth 8.62, Lasse Bjerre 8.32, Charles Wright 7.47, Josh Bates 6.54, Todd Kurtz 5.23, James Shanes 3.74, Jack Smith 2.51.
Plummer’s prediction: Terrific champions last season and they’re sure to be contenders for a follow-up.
Big-hitting number one Josh Grajczonek has gone but Howarth and Bjerre have the experience and class to ensure he isn’t overly missed. Wright is a handy signing while the reserve duo of British youngsters Shanes and Smith will only improve – the former impressed as a guest against Panthers on occasions last season, while the latter beat both Jack Holder and Chris Harris around Alwalton while riding for Glasgow.
Pre-season injury blow to Bates will put a strain on resources, but the Tigers will be right in the mix.
Finishing position: 3rd
WORKINGTON COMETS Track: Derwent Park
Team manager: Tony Jackson
Team: Rene Bach 7.53, Nicolai Klindt 7.51, Ty Proctor 7.15, Rasmus Jensen 6.14, Dan Bewley 5.95, Mason Campton 5.73, Kyle Bickley 2.00.
Plummer’s prediction: Big statements can have a habit of biting sporting folk on the backside, so Comets boss Tony Jackson would be well advised to regularly check behind him. “We’re going to make the play-offs” was a pretty emphatic opening statement in his club’s season preview in the sport’s bible, Speedway Star. But it’s one I happen to agree with. From returning Bach – back in Britain after sitting out 2017 - at one end to British whizzkid Bickley at the other end, the Comets boast seven riders all capable of increasing their starting average.
It’s a boast that few of their rivals can make and one which makes them a really interesting proposition.
Finishing position: 4th