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Kent Kings 47-43 Eastbourne Eagles
Kent Kings 47-43 Eastbourne Eagles

A record crowd for the Iwade Speedway circuit of over 700 saw the relaunch of the Kent Kings on Sunday and the spectators packed into the Old Gun Site were treated to a real shoot-out between long-time rivals.

The rivals from across the Kent/Sussex border came head to head for the season opener, with the hosts talking the spoils in a last heat decider over Eastbourne Eagles.

The enthusiasm and inspiration created by the new era for the Kings, competing this season in NORA competitions, had the effect of transforming their sextet from clear ante post underdogs into victors on this most memorable of afternoons.

Three double figure returns from heat leaders, Ben Morley, skipper Rhys Naylor and ‘Rider of The Meeting’, Jack Kingston were the bedrock of this most unlikely of victories; but with the ever reliable Sam Woods on paid seven and debutants Sam Ward and Nathan Hargrave both scoring paid five, this was for sure an excellent all-round team effort for the hosts.

The match was nip and tuck throughout as befits a meeting destined to go a last heat denouncement. 

A fall whilst leading heat one by the visitors’ Vinnie Foord did set the trend of a number of costly errors by the Eagles and it was the hosts who clearly used the handicapping rule NORA League meetings have at the disposal of Team Managers to better effect: Morley and Kingston combining to give the hosts an early lead after four heats.

By the halfway stage though, the stronger-on-paper Sussex side had indeed moved ahead and would’ve felt confident of pushing onto victory.  But that changed in heat nine with a brilliant ride by Kingston to clip the wings of the Eagles’ up -then-unbeaten Ryan Kinsley; backed up to take a heat advantage by his rookie partner Hargrave holding at bay Eastbourne stalwart Nick Laurence with a piece of riding which belied his lack of experience at this level.

That levelled things up and good use by team boss Ben Clifton of the 15 metre handicap rule in heat 11- kept the hosts well in contention.

The run-in to the finish saw club-record points scorer Morley and Naylor take vital heat wins and it was deadlocked at 42-42 with just the top scorers race to go. 

Kingston, showing zero ill-effects from the nasty injury sustained on this same circuit which had curtailed his 2023 campaign, stormed to victory, backed up by Morley to send the Kent supporters (many returning to support the Kings for the first time since the closure of the sport at Central Park two and a half years ago) into ecstasy.

Kings’ Team Manager Ben Clifton commented, “We knew that we went into this one as massive underdogs, but to be honest it was the Eastbourne management who gave the Kent lads all the fire in their belly they needed with a post on Social Media during the week, suggesting they were going to reach 60 points plus against us.

“I can’t single out any riders as they all did their bit, but seeing our reigning 2nd half champion (Hargrave) step up to team racing with five stellar points really shows the value of what we are looking to achieve”.

“I have to place on record our thanks to the Eastbourne Management and riders who helped massively in what was a smooth-running, brilliant afternoon’s Speedway racing, all done in the right spirit.

“And the biggest thanks must go to all the people on the terraces that came out to support both teams.  Track owner, Graham Arnold said it’s the biggest crowd he has ever seen there, and he has been at the Old Gun Side circuit forever!”

Kent Kings                                              47
Ben Morley   3  2′  2  3   2′                      12+1
Sam Woods  1   1′  1′  1  1                      5+2
Jack Kingston  2  3  1  3  3                     12
Nathan Hargrave  0  0  1  2  2                5
Rhys Naylor  2  2  2  1  3   10
Sam Ward    0  1′  FX  1′ 1′                    3+2

Eastbourne Eagles                                 43

Jody Scott     2  0  3  3  0                        8
Vinnie Foord FX  1  2′ 2′  3                      8+2
Arran Butcher   3  F  3  F  R                   6
Jake Knight   1  3  FX  2  2                      8
Ryan Kinsley 3  3  2  3  1                       12
Nick Laurence  1  0  0  0  0                    1

Heat details

1 (awarded) Morley, Scott, Woods, Foord (fell exc.)  no time  [4-2]
2 Butcher, Kingston, Knight, Hargrave  60.6  [6-6]
3 Kinsley, Naylor, Laurence, Ward  60.9  [8-10]
4 Kingston, Morley, Foord, Scott {15m handicap}  60.0  [13-11]
5 (places awarded) Knight, Naylor, Ward (fell rem.), Butcher (fell)  59.9  [16-14]
6 Kinsley, Morley {15m handicap} , Woods, Laurence  59.8  [19-17]
7 Scott, Foord, Kingston (tapes offence, 15m), Hargrave (fell rem.)  60.1  [20-22]
8 (rerun) Butcher, Naylor, Woods, Knight (fell exc.)  63.4
9 Kingston, Kinsley, Hargrave, Laurence 60.6  [27-27]
10 (rerun) Scott, Foord, Naylor {15m handicap}, Ward (fell exc.)  60.4  [28-32]
11  (rerun) Morley, Knight, Woods, Butcher {15m handicap}  59.7  [32-34]
12 Kinsley, Hargrave, Ward, Laurence  59.6  [35-37]
13 Foord, Hargrave, Ward, Laurence  63.2  [38-40]
14 Naylor, Knight, Woods (fell rem.), Butcher (ret.)  62.8  [42-42]
15 Kingston, Morley, Kinsley, Scott  60.3  [47-43] 

The Kings are next in action at Iwade on May 19th. taking on the Thurrock Hammers match – parade at 1.45pm and tapes up at 2pm.

Pictures supplied by Niall Strudwick.