HE’LL be jet-lagged, he won’t have his racing bikes and he’s left his riding gear in Australia, but his very presence could lift Newport Mike Manning Audio Wasps to cup glory – club legend Craig Watson is back in town.
Or rather he will be by the time the Wasps face Workington Comets in the first leg of a British Premier League Knockout Cup semi-final clash at Queensway Meadows Stadium tomorrow night.
The venue is where Watson proved king of the tight, 285-metre track to earn his club status after joining as a fresh-faced rookie to British speedway in 1997, when the Wasps were reformed after a 20-year absence.
Now 14 years later, the man known affectionately as Wato is winging his way nearly 11,000 miles from his Sydney base to his adopted home at Newport in a bid to help the Wasps take a step closer to landing their first silverware since 1999.
Indeed Watson was part of the team which lifted the Premier Trophy after a quite superb, two-legged final win over Edinburgh Monarchs in that year.
Now he his half-way through a year-long sabbatical from the sport, but has willingly accepted the club’s invitation to attend the meeting.
“I realise experienced riders such as skipper Leigh Lanham, Charlie Gjedde and Jason Doyle won't need anyone to motivate them,” remarked co-Newport promoter Nick Mallett.
“But simply having Craig Watson here will give everyone – riders, club officials, fans and very likely you and I, a feel-good factor and just having him about the place could lift the crowd.
“Besides Jason, we also have a couple of younger Australians in our team, Todd Kurtz and Mark Jones, and I know they will certainly benefit from any advice Wato will want to give them at any stage.
“Don’t forget it was Craig who recommended Todd to Newport, so there is a strong link there between the two.”
Watson has ridden for the Wasps in four different spells and is the clubs’ leading league points scorer with 2,140 from 961 rides in 188 appearances – averaging a highly-commendable 8.91 per meeting.
He has taken the 455 chequered flags, finished in second place on 272 occasions and in third place another 135 times.
He has also ridden in the UK for Poole Pirates, Belle Vue Aces, Glasgow Tigers, Birmingham Brummies and Getingarna and RKM Rybnik in Sweden and Poland respectively l The return leg of the Wasps’ last-four clash will take place at Workington on Sunday night with the winners scheduled to face either Glasgow or Newcastle Diamonds in the two-legged final.
l Children aged under-15 will be admitted free of charge to the Wasps’ home KO Cup semi final against Workington tomorrow night – tapes up at 7pm.