Sky Sports Elite League Season Preview
By Graeme Bailey - Tweet me: @graemebailey. Last Updated: 23/03/13 4:21pm
As the new Sky Sports Elite League season fast approaches, we bring you our comprehensive guide to the new campaign.
We give you a run through of all top-ten top-flight outfits as Swindon Robins look to reclaim their 2012 crown that they captured in dramatic circumstances last year.
Predicted EL table
- 1 - POOLE
- 2 - KING'S LYNN
- 3 - COVENTRY
- 4 - SWINDON
- 5 - PETERBOROUGH
- 6 - BIRMINGHAM
- 7 - LAKESIDE
- 8 - BELLE VUE
- 9 - EASTBOURNE
- 10 - WOLVES
Sky Sports will again be bringing you live action in HD throughout the season, with our first meeting being on March 27th as Birmingham Brummies host Coventry Bees in a huge Midlands derby clash.
We now bring you a rundown of every team, their star men, betting prices and our predicted finish!
The Aces were way behind every other club in terms of building their side this winter which is becoming almost near normal practice for the Manchester outfit and it is a trick which usually results in some less than inspiring line-ups.
However, this year has seen something different emerge from Kirkmanshulme Lane and Belle Vue look hugely competitive. Chris Morton and the Belle Vue hierarchy have overhauled their side.
Rory Schlein was a shock winter exit after two good years at the club, whilst Danish stalwarts Patrick Hougaard and Charlie Gjedde also surprisingly opted to move on.
Belle Vue always said they wanted a Grand Prix star at number one, and many doubted their ability to be true to their word - but they have truly delivered with brilliant yet unpredictable Slovenian Matej Zagar signing up.
Czech Ales Dryml is back as skipper, whilst experience is not in short measure with Swede Magnus Zetterstrom making a welcome return to British racing.
Kevin Wolbert and Artur Mroczka are capable performers and with their doubling up pair of Craig Cook and Kauko Neimenen looking in good shape, their reserve pairing at any point looks a very strong aspect of their side.
Team line-up: Matej Zagar, Kevin Wolbert, Magnus Zetterstrom, Artur Mroczka, Ales Dryml, Craig Cook (D/U), Kauko Neimenen (D/U)
Key man: MATEJ ZAGAR
One to watch: CRAIG COOK
What they say: "Last year got better and better and I feel this year's teams are pretty equal. If everything goes well we could be up at the top. We have some good young riders who can improve their averages and that can matter such a lot." - Aces skipper Ales Dryml
What we say: Belle Vue have built a side that looks a very solid unit and they look highly unlikely to be battling at the bottom again. Indeed a play-off campaign could beckon but they need their big winter captures of Zagar and Zetterstrom to deliver.
Last season's finish: 10th
Predicted finish: 8th
Birmingham have put together a side which looks built to succeed at home. Chris Harris will be strong, but his form in recent years has only been heading in one direction and he needs a good year to prove he is still international class.
Captain Danny King is back as skipper and he is the real back bone to the side and he will never disappoint, indeed their top-four is all British with young guns Ben Barker and Josh Auty in the side again - and whilst both impressed in flashes last term, both will be expected to add big to their starting marks.
Australian Jason Doyle, an excellent squad man as he proved in successive title-winning campaigns with Poole and Swindon, will be a valuable asset.
Foreign duo Nico Covatti and Martin Smolinski are flamboyant performers capable of big scores, but their consistency will be the key factor in their contributions to the Brummies campaign.
Team line-up: Chris Harris, Danny King, Jason Doyle (D/U), Ben Barker (D/U), Josh Auty (D/U), Nicolas Covatti, Martin Smolinski
Key man: BEN BARKER
One to watch: JOSH AUTY
What they say: "It's a team of entertainers throughout; all seven riders are going to go out there and give their all. You know nobody will give up until that chequered flag whether they are first or last and exciting racing should certainly be on the agenda at Perry Barr this year" - Brummies boss Phil Morris
What we say: Birmingham don't look as strong as last year when they should have done better than they did and challenged for the title. Ben Barker is key, if he can become the 8-point he is capable of, then they could be a real threat.
Last season's finish: 3rd
Predicted finish: 6th
Bees owner Mick Horton has overhauled Coventry as they go in search of their first title since 2010, and he has put together an intriguing line-up.
Scott Nicholls is back to captain the side, but he won't be asked to lead the side as that role is handed to Polish international Krzysztof Kasprzak - who has extensive and vital experience in Britain. Kasprzak and Nicholls look one of the strongest top orders in the league and will make them a real danger.
Because of their top-two, Coventry have almost equally shared the remaining points amongst their next five. Pole Grzegorz Zengota will be asked to provide the main-back up to their top two, and he is capable of adding to his average.
Bees' own prospects Aaron Summers and Adam Roynon are a gamble in the main body of the side, but both are capable of beating anyone on their day and Roynon particularly could make big strides.
Two more Poles take up the reserve berths and it is Szczepaniak brothers Mateusz and Michal, who make up and intriguing pairing - again, they look a huge gamble on behalf of the Bees.
Team line-up: Krzysztof Kasprzak, Scott Nicholls, Grzegorz Zengota, Aaron Summers (D/U), Adam Roynon (D/U), Mateusz Szczepaniak, Michal Szczepaniak
Key man: KRZYSZTOF KASPRZAK
One to watch: ADAM ROYNON
What they say: "We did under-achieve last season, we know there are always expectations at Coventry but it was a bit of a disappointment. This year, we have pretty much a new team and it looks exciting. I'm happy with the line-up." - Coventry owner Mick Horton
What we say: Coventry have a strong top two, one of the best combinations in the league but on paper they look to have little else on offer - top-four might be the best they can hope for, but they are pro-active and will change if needs be so they look a play-off banker.
Last season's finish: 8th
Predicted finish: 3rd
As you were for Eastbourne - as is becoming the norm at Arlington and is clearly popular with the South Coast faithful - the Eagles VII offer nothing the fans have not already seen before.
Bjarne Pedersen and Adam Shields are new arrivals, but they are both former favourites. However, Pedersen at number one and Shields will be expected to provide the scores away from home.
Clearly Eastbourne will be hugely powerful at home and they will look to go through their campaign undefeated. Simon Gustafsson will be asked to push on into a heat-leading role and it could be a big season for the gifted young Swede.
Timo Lahti was a shock name to be back, amongst some, but he made real progress last term and is being given a chance in the main body where Cameron Woodward will also be there.
With Dennis Gizatullin and Lukas Dryml at reserve, that looks their major bonus card as no matter who lines up at 6 and 7, they will be hugely powerful - home and away.
Team line-up: Bjarne Pedersen, Simon Gustafsson, Adam Shields, Timo Lathi, Cameron Woodward, Dennis Gizatullin, Lukas Dryml
Key man: BJARNE PEDERSEN
One to watch: SIMON GUSTAFSSON
What they say: "The boys are keyed up and really want to do well. I can see every one of them improving on their averages this year. We have five riders back from last year and the newcomers are, of course, no strangers." - Team manager Trevor Geer.
What we say: Eastbourne know what they are doing and they will hammer some teams at home, there is no doubt. However, their top end away from home does not look good enough and a play-off spot is unlikely.
Last season's finish: 5th
Predicted finish: 9thSkyBet odds: 33/1
Since returning to the top-flight, the Stars have put together excellent sides to complete at the top - they finished in the play-offs two-years ago and just missed out last time around, the class of 2013 look like they could be serious title challengers.
Niels Kristian Iversen is back after a prolonged row with his parent club Peterborough, and his signing is crucial - given he is one of the form riders on the planet. Add to that home favourite Mads Korneliussen and new signing Rory Schlein - they have one of the best top-threes in the league and one of the few sides that could argue they possess three genuine heat-leaders.
Simon Stead has been brought in from Swindon, and he could benefit from the change of scenery. Stead will love the big open spaces of the Norfolk Arena and he is joined in the top-five by Danish international Nicolai Klindet - left out by Wolves, he has a point to prove and he looks like he could improve.
At reserve they have brought Seb Alden back to the top-flight whilst Kozza Smith returns - both are capable but they are unlikely to push for a top-five spot at any point in the season.
Team line-up: Niels Kristian Iversen, Rory Schlein, Mads Korneliussen, Simon Stead (D/U), Nicolai Klindt, Seb Alden, Kozza Smith (D/U)
Key man: NIELS KRISTIAN IVERSEN
One to watch: NICOLAI KLINDT
What they say: "I'm really happy with the team this year, it took a while and we had to be patient. It was important that we got a team of riders that connects, communicates well and can develop a good team spirit." - Stars team boss Rob Lyon
What we say: A genuine title contender, barely a weakness with a top-five that is full of scoring power led by returning GP star Iversen. Reserves could let them down, but the Grand Final or even better could very well be awaiting the Stars.
Last season's finish: 7th
Predicted finish: 2nd (GRAND FINAL WINNERS)
The Hammers have made the play-offs in three of the last four years, but they look to have a battle on their hands to repeat their top four-finish of last season, which in itself was a remarkable achievement given the shocking mid-table death of Lee Richardson.
Peter Karlsson and Davey Watt are back to form an experienced and relatively powerful top-two, and both will troubled anyway at home - but on the road could be an issue.
The signing of Lewis Bridger is a hugely interesting one - a dynamic talent who is yet to really reach the levels that world speedway believe he is capable of. He has opted for a move away from Eastbourne and Lakeside will be looking to reap some rewards from the switch.
Piotr Swiderski and Kim Nilsson will form a solid back-up to the top order both home and away, but both can be inconsistent but the hope will be that they can progress to become powerful Elite League performers.
Robert Mear is back at reserve and will always be value for money and is capable of beating big names around Purfleet. His partner, just days before the season, was due to be British starlet Richie Worrall - one of the stars of the future for the sport in this country, but a contract dispute has seen the move collapse. Richard Lawson has come in and whilst he has plenty to offer he does not look in the same calibre as Worrall - that single change suddenly turns Lakeside into an ordinary looking side.
Team line-up: Peter Karlsson, Davey Watt, Piotr Swiderski, Lewis Bridger, Kim Nilsson, Robert Mear, Richard Lawson
Key man: DAVEY WATT
One to watch: LEWIS BRIDGER
What they say: "We have the bulk of the team that got us into the top two of the table at the time of Lee Richardson's death and who then put in the sterling work immediately after to take the League points that ultimately won us a place in the Play Offs, which for us was a victory in itself." - Lakeside co-promoter Jon Cook.
What we say: You have to feel for Lakeside losing Worrall so late - he was the key for the season and their top-four hopes. They look solid, but unfortunately also a bit unspectacular.
Last season's finish: 4th
Predicted finish: 7th
Peterborough have flattered to deceive in recent years - and after winning the title back in 2006 they have made the final four just twice.
The Panthers rarely look weak on paper and they have again put together a good looking seven this year around.
Danish pocket rocket Kenneth Bjerre will lead from the front, but Swede Linus Sundstrom will have to shoulder a lot of responsibility as his main back-up.
Dane Kenni Larsen never really hit the heights at Coventry that he promised during his time with Newcastle in the Premier League and he could flourish at the East of England Showground.
Norbert Kosciuch and Ryan Fisher will provide some real excitement whilst young Aussie Dakota North looks an interesting prospect at reserve, where he is partnered by Patrick Hougaard who has gone backwards in recent times - but he could be a real key figure for Peterborough given how much improvement he potentially brings with him.
Team line-up: Kenneth Bjerre, Linus Sundstrom, Kenni Larsen, Norbert Kosciuch, Ryan Fisher, Patrick Hougaard, Dakota North
Key man: KENNETH BJERRE
One to watch: PATRICK HOUGAARD
What they say: "The Panthers haven't won anything for a few years now and we'll be doing all we can to put that right this season. Rick and Julie have put in so much hard work since taking over the club a few years ago and it will be just reward for them to pick-up some silverware. We'll be doing all we can to deliver that for them." - Panthers reserve Dakota North
What we say: The Panthers look capable and have a solid team, much will depend on their young Scandinavians Sundstrom, Larsen and Hougaard - they all progress as they hope then top-four - if not, then mid-table.
Last season's finish: 6th
Predicted finish: 5th
Odds-on favourites, the giants of British speedway are again setting the benchmark for the Elite League - if you finish ahead of Poole Pirates in 2013, you will probably be champions.
Quite surprisingly the 'Turbo-Twins' are back together - world champion Chris Holder was always coming back, but league number one Darcy Ward was a doubt after being drafted into the GP series but Pirates supermo Matt Ford has opted to bring them back together. The undoubted top-two in the league, a near-30 points is virtually guaranteed every meeting, home or away.
Former World Under-21 champion Maceij Janowski is one of three Poles brought in to provide main back-up. Robert Miskowiak and Dawid Stachyra are also included but Janowski will be the one expected to step up and he has huge potential and if anyone can get the best out of him, it is surely Poole.
At reserve they have gone for youngsters Rohan Tungate and Kyle Howarth, both hugely talented and Poole will be hoping one of them can be a real trump card.
Team line-up: Darcy Ward, Chris Holder, Maciej Janowski, Robert Miskowiak, Dawid Stachyra, Rohan Tungate (D/U) Kyle Howarth (D/U)
Key man: DARCY WARD
One to watch: MACIEJ JANOWSKI
What they say: "We have set out our stall, picked a team we think is capable of winning and, as you do every season, you hope and pray for the wind to sail in the right direction and for the team to click." - Matt Ford Poole chief
What we say: A brilliant top two, reserves with huge potential and a solid middle order, and if things are going wrong they WILL change things and quickly - they will be in the top-four, whether they win the title will depend on if they have managed to provide enough back-up to the Turbo-Twins.
Last season's finish: 1st
Predicted finish: 1st (Losing finalist)
The 2012 champions were far from favourites for the title, and they won't be in 2013 either.
Hans Andersen is back on board at number one with Tory Bacthelor and as they proved last term they can compete with the best.
Danish star Peter Kildemand was one of the riders of last season and his improvement was spectacular but he could again make big strides this term and became a real big hitter in the Elite League, and he may have to if the Wiltshire side want to retain their crown.
Ed Kennett looks a very good signing and with Aussie talent Nick Morris they provide real strength lower down the order.
However, the Robins' bottom two look very weak in the shape of Kacper Gomolski and Ashley Birks. But Swindon are no fouls and know what they are doing, and they will already have plans afoot in case their gamble does not work.
Team line-up: Hans Andersen, Troy Batchelor, Peter Kildemand, Edward Kennett, Nick Morris (D/U), Kacper Gomolski, Ashley Birks (D/U)
Key man: HANS ANDERSEN
One to watch: PETER KILDEMAND
What they say: "The team looks really good and it looks like we can have a good shot of retaining our title, and last year was so enjoyable because everyone really gelled which made things a lot easier." - Swindon number one Hans Andersen.
What we say: Swindon have kept their top two and they are strong, and last season's trump card Peter Kildemand could again be the key to their success. They do though look weak at the bottom, and that could very well prevent a title challenge.
Last season's finish: 2nd (Grand Final winners)
Predicted finish: 4th
It is sorry to say, but the 2009 Elite League champions look a shadow of their former selves and on paper they are the weakest side who will start the new season.
Tai Woffinden is starting the season as number one after Freddie Lindgren slipped down the averages - although both are still formidable on their day.
Veteran Pole Adam Skornicki was a rather surprising choice to be the main back-up for the top two. With Ty Proctor and Ricky Wells completing the top-five it is a real worry as to how reliant on their top-two Wolves will be.
Jacob Thorssel has potential at reserve, whilst Sam Masters could be the real silver lining for Wolves at reserve - although there are issues over his work permit which the club hope is resolved sooner rather than later.
Team line-up: Tai Woffinden, Freddie Lindgren, Adam Skornicki, Ricky Wells.(D/U), Ty Proctor (D/U), Jacob Thorssel, Sam Masters (D/U)
Key man: FREDDIE LINDGREN
One to watch: SAM MASTERS
What they say: "The last couple of seasons have been disappointing for Wolves but I want to play my part in getting the back where they should be - in the play-offs." - Wolves number one Tai Woffinden.
What we say: It is hard to see anything but bottom spot for this Wolves side, few have real potential increases in them and the pressure on the top two could just be too much. Masters inclusion could be huge but this tie looks a million miles off being top-four.
Last season's finish: 9th
Predicted finish: 10th