Speedway: First test for Stoke's new-look line-up
STOKE Easy Rider Potters ease their way in to the 2012 season tomorrow when they face Isle of Wight at Loomer Road in the first leg of the Wightlink Challenge Trophy (7.30pm).
Both sides have made changes to their teams during the winter, some planned and others forced on them through injury.
The Islanders drafted in Ben Hopwood following a long-term injury to Rob Smith during the close season.
They also lost number one Nick Simmons recently with a wrist injury that is likely to keep him out for up to six weeks.
In his absence, the Islanders have called up Stoke asset Tim Webster, who will be plying his trade with Buxton this season once the National League gets under way.
However, Danny Warwick, Paul Starke and Gary Cottham are back with the Islanders, while Lakeside asset Marc Owen and Ricky Mullins are newcomers to a team who struggled last season.
"I suspect Tim (Webster) may want to come here and prove a point and we will have to handle that," said Potters team manager Malcolm Vasey.
"He has joined Buxton to gain further experience and will, hopefully, rejoin us all the better for that.
"This will be a good season opener for us against a decent side.
"It goes without saying that we are looking to get off to a winning start, but so too, will the Islanders."
Stoke made several team changes over the winter, retaining only Ben Reade, Tony Atkin and Jaimie Pickard from the 2011 line-up who won the NL Pairs with Webster and Simon Lambert, and finished runners-up to Mildenhall in the National League KO Cup.
Ashley Birks and Richie Worrall have joined from Scunthorpe, while Rhys Naylor and Dan Berwick were brought in over the past week.
Naylor, though, will miss tomorrow's opener.
The 18-year-old, from Essex, has an injury that is likely to sideline him for another week, and he will be replaced by Staffordshire youngster Oliver Greenwood, who is riding for Scunthorpe this season.
Stoke's veteran skipper Atkin believes tomorrow's match and a challenge meeting at Dudley next Tuesday will give his new-look team the chance to gel before the serious business of the National League begins.
He said: "It's good to start the season with a few challenge matches because we are very much a new-look side and need to work on riding with new partners.
"We are a bit split as a team in the sense that we have a strong top four and then three riders on three-point averages.
"Speedway is predominantly a team sport and we need to be working and firing as a seven-man unit if we are to maximise the potential in the side.
"Bringing in Ashley Birks and Richie Worrall will give the club and supporters a huge boost because they are young riders who have tasted success (they were both part of the Scunthorpe/Sheffield side that won the 2011 league championship).
"I think we have the makings of another good side here, but only time will tell just how good."
Stoke: A Birks, J Pickard, T Atkin, O Greenwood, R Worrall, D Berwick, B Reade.
Isle of Wight: T Webster, M Owen, D Warwick, P Starke, B Hopwood, R Mullins, G Cottham.