Big Challenge for new look Eagles

A new and exciting-looking Eastbourne Eagles squad come under starter's orders for the first time tonight (Saturday) as the 2008 campaign opens with a Craven Shield clash against Swindon Robins.

Eagles return to Arlington (7.30pm) after a winter of changes to face a side who became serial runners up in all three major competitions in season 2007.

With Bob Brimson having made the heart wrenching decision to hand over the reins after only one year in charge of the Eagles, this left the way clear for incoming promoter Martin Hagon and his backroom team to put in place the blueprint which hopefully will safeguard the long term future of the famous Sussex club.

Hagon has placed the emphasis very much on youth and few could argue that the septet he has assembled is rich in raw talent.

But given the experience and guidance provided by high profile signings, Scott Nicholls and Lee Richardson it is one that will undoubtedly be challenging strongly for any silverware on offer.

Of course it was Nicholls who led the Coventry Bees to a clean sweep of honours in 2007, the Brandon outfit laying claim to not only the Elite League title but also the Knockout Cup and just for good measure the Craven Shield also.

Indeed Nicholls could already claim to have been a league winner with the Eagles following a superb guest appearance as the Sussex outfit saw off the challenge of King's Lynn in the match that effectively become the title decider in the year 2000.

Hopes will of course be high in the camp that the England international and Grand Prix regular will be able to make such a declaration following his first full season as an Eagle.

Richardson, newly installed as Eastbourne captain, was a high priority target by long time sponsor Hagon as he will swiftly renew acquaintance with the Robins, the team with whom he saw service throughout 2007.

Edward Kennett is sure to prove a popular returnee to the Eagles fold following a spell spent at Wimborne Road in the colours of the Poole Pirates.

A preferred guest by Eastbourne last term, Kennett scored prolifically for his parent club and now that he has made the full time switch back from Dorset to Sussex to join forces with regular Eagles Lewis Bridger, Cameron Woodward, Simon Gustafsson as well as new signing James Brundle it is little wonder that the Eagles are already being spoken of as strong contenders by the pre-season pundits.

But there have also been some high profile depatures. The 2007 World Champion and winner of last Sunday's 60,000 challenge Nicki Pedersen was unable to be accommodated within the new framework and will now seek his fortune outside the Elite League while Davey Watt, Eastbourne's Rider of the Year, has been recalled by Poole.

In addition, David Norris, Dean Barker and Stefan Andersson each suffered a premature conclusion to their respective 2007 campaigns having sustained unfortunate injuries.

Though Norris has since hinted at a possible return to the sport at sometime in the future, for the time being at least it would seem that all three loyal servants have ridden their final races for the Eagles.

However, now is the time to look forward and with a whole new era about to unfold at Arlington stadium, the first chapter is set to be written this Saturday evening.

Eagles: 1. Scott Nicholls, 2. Lewis Bridger, 3. Lee Richardson (Captain), 4. Cameron Woodward, 4. Edward Kennett, 6. Simon Gustafsson, 7. James Brundle

Robins: 1. Leigh Adams (Captain), 2. Mads Korneliussen, 3. Troy Batchelor, 4. James Wright, 5. Travis McGowan, 6. Theo Pijper, 7. Sebastian Alden