Derek Sneddon skippers Edinburgh Monarchs this season for the first time since he led them to their second British League crown at Armadale back in 2008.
The Falkirk-based star will also celebrate a Testimonial salute in September, but today he revealed his main aim is to kick up a gear this year.
“It’s probably 12 years since I first became a Monarchs rider, and from day one that’s what I always wanted to be, but injuries and speedway’s number game (points-average rating per rider) kept me away from Armadale for three seasons.
“It was great to return to Monarchs in 2012, but I think I need to step up a bit from last year. I’ve had pressure over the last two years which has taken it’s toll a bit, I have never lacked time in the workshop but maybe I can improve upon my fitness and focus a bit more – in my Testimonial year I owe it to myself and the fans.
“Riding with Craig Cook last season was a huge eye-opener for me. He is a very open guy and listening to how he focused on his career after the problems he had at the end of 2011 made me feel I can step up my game too, though perhaps not to his level.
“It’s all about believing in yourself and putting the work in and that’s what I’ll be trying to do this season.”
Sneddon takes the helm of a revamped Monarchs squad who are already being talked up as potential champions in 2013, but he is refusing to get carried away by such flattering talk, insisting: “I’m very surprised with the team we have assembled. It was certainly a surprise that we signed Sam Masters, but I think the side we have got is fantastic.
“I don’t want to get expectations too high or put pressure on anyone, but I can see us gelling together and shocking a few people. There is no reason why the team spirit shouldn’t be excellent, and when that happens, you can get on a roll and winning seems easy.
“The other problem will be the battle with the weather!”
Sneddon isn’t alone in being bowled over by the arrival of Aussie ace Masters who has added a touch of genuine lustre to the Monarchs team.
The other new Australian in the line-up is recently crowned Australian under-21 champion Max Fricke, and Sneddon added: “To do what he did at just 16 was very impressive. Some of the riders he beat in the final were very good. We’ll do everything we can to help him settle in over here.”
As ever, the reserve positions could play a significant factor in the campaign and Sneddon has high hopes for tail-end duo Jozsef Tabaka and Marcel Helfer. “Jozsef has proved he can score points, and ideally he probably wants to be on better kit if that’s possible. As for Marcel, perhaps he got left to his own devices a bit too much last season, but he should know what’s expected of him now and there is no reason why he can’t go out and have a better year.”
Two of Sneddon’s long-time buddies, Matthew Wethers and Andrew Tully, have gone out on loan to Berwick Bandits and Newcastle Diamonds respectively, leading some to predict that Monarchs might be a shade vulnerable at home.
“We might not be as strong straight away, but I think we have enough firepower elsewhere to combat that,” added Sneddon. “You are better winning a home match by ten points than winning by loads more then going away and getting stuffed.
“We have a team who should be able to compete on the road, and that’s important.”
Monarchs, who are planning to move the starting gate to the back straight this season, open their season on Friday, March 29, with a challenge fixture against Berwick.