Ben Morley is keen to make up for lost time after being brought back to the Plymouth Gladiators in place of Paul Starke, who has since left the club.
Starke, who had his testimonial at the track before the season got underway, has struggled for consistency this summer, with his one notable score coming in the 46-44 win over Poole Pirates in the BSN Series, when he scored 12+2.
He missed the most recent meeting through illness – a 58-32 loss at Oxford Cheetahs, also in the BSN Series – and with the Gladiators struggling to fire this year, promoter Mark Phillips has made the call to replace Starke with Morley.
The 29-year-old is no stranger to Plymouth after joining the club as reserve in 2022 after Dan Gilkes’ season-ending injury. He certainly fared well, certainly at home, and ended the season being promoted to number two. However, that was not enough to earn him a deal for this year – until now, with Morley set to benefit from Starke’s lack of form.
“I was really pleased with how I did for them last year and I was a bit gutted that I didn’t make the team at the start of the season to be honest, but to be given the opportunity to get back with them, I am looking forward to it,” Morley said.
“It’s a similar scenario to last year for me where I didn’t have a Championship spot and then I got the call and I jumped at it really. I have been doing alright for Kent, although it’s been a bit of a slow start for me with not enough meetings and stuff like that.
“Some of the other boys are riding two or three times a week but for me, it’s been one meeting every other week, if that, so to get the call-up and get more meetings is perfect for me.
“If you look over the years, I have had between 70 and 90 meetings a year but my calendar at the start of the year had 20, if that. It looked like being a bleak season but now, with more meetings, that is more bike time and that’s the only way you can improve.”
Morley has been the stand-out rider for the Kent Royals this year and he is hoping that his return to Plymouth can spark a change in fortunes. The club have lost six of their eight meetings so far, but will hope to get back to winning ways when they welcome Poole Pirates to the Coliseum for the third time already on Tuesday night.
“I just want to start where I left off last year, really. At home, I had an 8.50 point average and it was probably one of my best season’s in that league, so if I can carry on from where I left off, I’d be more than happy with that,” Morley added.
“I know it’s not been going that well for the team this year, but if I can come in and help that and change things around, then it will be positive all round.
“The track there suits my style of racing; I have grown up on Lakeside, Eastbourne and Rye House so small, technical tracks suit me.
“I finished off at number two last year after coming in as reserve, so I didn’t drop down to reserve; I had a few meetings at two and did fairly well. As I say, hopefully I can start off where I left off and we will go from there.”
With only nine teams in the league this season, Phillips is keen to make sure the club’s chances of making the play-offs are not over as early as their participation in both the BSN Series, where they failed to get out of the groups, or the KO Cup, was.
Luck hasn’t been on their side, though, after being drawn against a dominant Poole side in both their BSN Series group and then in the first round of the KO Cup, which they lost on aggregate.
Speaking of his decision to bring back Morley, Phillips said: “We initially brought in Paul Starke because he had a better away track record and Ben Morley always seemed to under-perform on the away tracks.
But Paul Starke hasn’t hit the ground running this year and not showing up to a meeting due to illness didn’t bode well for the club, so the club has got to make changes.
“Ben came to us in May last year, just as Dan Gilkes got injured, and he certainly did an excellent job for us, so hopefully, he can carry on from where he left off and steer Plymouth toward some silverware.”
Team manager Garry May added: “I didn’t really want to make a change, I wanted to get Starkey going, but the trouble is it is all about averages and the averages change next month and his average goes below Morley and I wouldn’t be able to do anything then.
“At this stage, I can bring Morley in and hope he performs like he did last year and we will get some points because we have to start winning at home. We lost that one at home (to Birmingham) which was no good and that put a dent in my plans, really.”
Image credit: Jon Sproad