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 Wats - on Craig's Mind?

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tanya
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PostSubject: Wats - on Craig's Mind?   Tue Aug 26, 2014 6:36 pm

After a successful summer in the Premier League, Newport's Aussie star Craig Watson faces a major career decision this winter - whether to step up into the Elite League or stay put with the Wasps.  Which way will he go?

Newport's Craig Watson flies home to Australia within the next couple of weeks facing the kind of dilemma that contestants on a certain television quiz programme can solve by 'phoning a friend, asking the audience or taking 50-50!'

The Talkback Wasps number one laughed at the irony of it all as he mulls over the possibilities of sticking with the Premier League or, if the speedway grapevine is to be believed, moving up to the Elite League.

"I guess that's my 50-50 choice," he laughed.  "I'll probably be talking to one or two very good friends whose advice I value but, as for the audience bit, it's them who have been asking me!  If I had a pound for every time I've been asked what I'm going to do, I could probably of retired right now.

"It's been non-stop for a couple of weeks now and it does get to me a bit.  Everybody seems to have an opinion and, of course, I can understand the supporters wanting to know what's going on.

"But the truth is that I haven't made my mind up yet and nor will I for some time yet.  It's far too big a decision to make without very careful consideration."  

Watson has become one of the hottest properties on the British speedway scene following a season of success with the South Wales outfit and numerous telling Elite League performances.

There are many who expect him to throw in his lot with a top flight club, but before looking ahead, the 23-year old cast his mind back to when he first came over to Britain and the reasons why the season just ended has been far and away his most productive.

"When I first wanted to come over, there were quite a few clubs interested in me and I had a lot on my plate to think about," he recalled.  

"Poole, Oxford, Peterborough and Exeter were just a few who made enquiries and each had their own appeal.  But the Elite League clubs only seemed prepared to sign me up and put me out on loan and I didn't really fancy that.

"I wanted to be somewhere where I could settle and make progress because I knew it would be hard going to come over and make any sort of impression.  Moving on year after year wasn't the best idea and the more I thought about it, the more the thought of going to Newport appealed.

"It was brand new, there was bags of enthusiasm within the club and amongst the supporters and Neil Street was going to be involved.  I suppose at the time that was the decider and probably what helped sway me towards joining Newport.

"Streety is a legend and I respect his advice and knowledge of the game so much.  My admiration for him has just increased whilst I've been over here.

"It was a big decision to make at the time but I am quite convinced I made the right choice and have no regrets."

Craig's first season in Wasps colours saw him average more than seven points despite a number of machine problems and injuries.  By the end of the following season, it was over eight as he ended the campaign as the cub's new number one, his progress helped by fewer mechanical problems.

Twelve months on, the average has risen again and Watson is regarded as an out-and-out number one and a rider who can handle the pressure that comes with the tag - terrific progress in just three years of racing in what is a very competitive league.

"As long as you have a certain amount of ability and determination the potential to improve is always there," he pointed out.

"What makes the difference for riders from overseas - I won't say foreigners in my case because I don't feel that way - is all the additional bits that go to make up the complete picture.  

"There's a whole new lifestyle to adjust to and that doesn't come overnight.  Accommodation, food, workshops, money, outside help, the travel - it's all new and hard to take in for some time.

"It's taken me three years to get to the stage where I feel settled over here and that's given me the solid base to work from.  I've got some brilliant help from my main sponsors Mallett Transport and Steve, John, Jill and all the others have become far more than just sponsors.  They are friends that I trust and can rely on and I owe them far more than monetary thanks.

"My girlfriend Claire Rolls, is one in a million and by living in the same place all season, I feel very settled over here.  All these things add up and once you have that 'comfort feeling' you can look at other things.

"There's no doubt I've now got better equipment than ever before and here again a lot of that is down to good advice and backing from the Mallett family.   Between us, we have learned so much and consequently put that knowledge to good effect with the bikes and that has then shown on the track.

"Ability in itself, really isn't enough.  Of course, it helps, but you need far more than that and it's really only this season that it's all come together as any rider would hope for."

His confidence boosted by the end of the 1998 season, Watson wintered reasonably well back home and came back determined to improve yet again with Newport - but he also made it crystal clear that he was willing to take on any extra bookings that the Elite League promoters could throw his way.

The upshot of all that is that he was offered meetings at just about every EL track in the country, not bad going for someone who wondered whether he'd get any at all!

"Newport's always had my loyalty and as long as any additional fixtures didn't interfere with that I was willing to ride anywhere," he went on.

"I had no hang ups about tracks and just went there to do my best.  I suppose the television cameras added a bit of pressure at times, but I wasn't really part of that pressure.  I was a guest, a PL rider in the main and maybe I was just able to get on with doing my best because quite often I'm sure promoters would have been happy enough with lower scores than I came up with.  

"I think possibly the only clubs I didn't ride for were Coventry and Belle Vue and Belle Vue was the only track I didn't race at.  That's not bad going from my point of view because the variety of experiences was terrific - I certainly had the best of both worlds during this season.

"As a rule, I found most riders very helpful.  It's the usual thing really - the clubs that were winning had the time to pass on tips partly because they wanted to carry on winning, whereas other riders had enough on their plate thinking about themselves."

Watson, who was named Newport Rider of the Year last week, certainly looks to have the potential to step up and do reasonably well.  But he is astute enough to realise that guest appearances are one thing, doing it without the occasional boost of a PL maximum another altogether.

"It's not just a case of throwing in my lot with the Elite League or staying put. It's more about finding the balance that will give me further improvement along with financial stability," he explained.

"I'm very mixed up at the moment and there is no way I will make a decision until I go back home and chill out for a few weeks.  Once my mind is clear, I'll weight it all up and go from there."

Is staying with Newport an option? "That's a possibility," said Watson.

"Tim Stone is another who has become a very close friend and I admire a lot of what he is doing with the club.  So much so that I wouldn't have any compulsion about signing on again if I thought it was the right career move.

"Don't ever let anyone knock the Premier League.  It is far harder than it is sometimes given credit for and it really is a league that keeps you on your toes.  It's certainly dragged me along and upwards over the last three years and I feel there are things I can still achieve if I stay put.

"I want to think about riding in Sweden and Poland next year for the extra experience Newport on a Sunday would rule out a lot of Polish meetings - but that's not the end of the world.

"On the other hand, riding for an Elite League club could make it easier and these are the sort of possibilities I need to sort out before doing anything.

"Stoney (Carl Stonehewer) has shown just what can be achieved through the PL by reaching the Grand Prix series and these are the things I have to consider.  I want to be the best rider in the world but to achieve that, I also need to be confident and to make a living - so if I do move on I need to be really sure that I can make a go of it."

One thing that has dismayed the Aussie is a rumour suggesting he has already done an EL deal.

"I've heard that I've already signed for three clubs and I find that disgusting.  I would never do anything like that and hold back from Newport - I owe them more loyalty than that and I'm not impressed by the rumours at all," he added.

It hasn't been a bad year for the 23-year old from Sydney. An average in excess of nine saw him finish in the PL top five, he won the Welsh Open, on his home track, and took third place in the PLRC at Sheffield.

"It's great to win things as an individual and I'm very pleased with what I achieved this year.  But I'm a team man in the main and seeing Newport do so well really meant so much to me," he stressed.

"We really gave Sheffield a fright in the league and had we had the settled team they did, we may have got even closer.

"I thought the young lads like Andrew Appleton and Chris Neath were top notch and the club as a whole has the potential to go onwards and upwards.   It has a good nucleus of riders who are young and can improve and the potential here is enormous."

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