Woodward waits in champs' wings

IT could be a baptism of fire for Edinburgh Monarchs’ new boy Cameron Woodward when he makes his Scottish speedway derby debut against Glasgow Tigers in the first leg of the Spring Trophy which opens the new season at Armadale tomorrow.

The 19-year-old reserve ace today admitted he never thought he would get his chance to ride in the British Premier League - but a relaxation in the rules which now permits Australians to race in the UK without a work permit has paved the way for Monarchs to steal a march on their rivals by snapping him up on a three-point average.

Said Woodward: "If it wasn’t for the change of rules I wouldn’t be here. When I was lying in my hospital bed last year after breaking my collar bone, I’d almost given up hope of racing in Britain.

"Once I found out I wouldn’t need a work permit, I was so happy, it cheered me up heaps."

Woodward is no rookie, having turned out for Elite League champions Poole Pirates in the British League Cup. He also had a spin in the second half at Armadale towards the end of the year.

"It was then that Edinburgh told me they were interested in signing me if they could get me in on a low average. I didn’t think it was possible, but just before Christmas they came in with an offer. It was too good to refuse."

His brief flirtation for Poole in the top flight has endowed Woodward with a degree of experience he could turn to his advantage at the Monarchs’ tail-end. He said: "Although, I didn’t have too many good meetings for Poole, I enjoyed my time and hopefully it will pay off with Edinburgh. Working with riders like Leigh Adams was great. Jason Lyons and his dad also gave me tremendous help. Without them and my parents’ backing, I’d still be a plumber back home."

Woodward revealed that speedway in Australia is in a bit of a shambles and a clutch of aspiring hopefuls harbour ambitions to start their racing apprenticeships proper in Britain. "It is the dream of many," he said. "You’ve got to say the sport back home is pretty dismal at this moment in time, which explains why a lot of us are desperate to be signed up by teams here."

With reserve pairings possibly holding the key to winning the championship, Woodward and partner Matthew Wethers could be key performers for the defending league champions.

Woodward is refreshingly honest about his approach to the job. "I don’t worry about who I’m racing against. I just pull my race helmet on and go. You can’t afford to worry about everybody else, you have got to worry about yourself. I think it will take me time to get used to Armadale but I think it should be good as a home ground advantage."

Stepping into a Monarchs side who claimed their first-ever championship crown in 55 years last season doesn’t faze the teenager. "I’ve not really thought about it," he said. "I wasn’t fussy about which Premier League team I signed for provided it was a good team.

"Riding is the easy part, it’s the other things like team-mates and the people you live with which are important, so I’m hoping my set-up with Edinburgh works well."

Ask Woodward if he has any goals for the 2004 season and he replies with a laugh: "To survive, and go home in one piece and not too many debts!"