Watkins expects tough start to the season

Telford Tigers’ boss Tom Watkins is anticipating a tough weekend as the new EPL season gets underway.

Tigers travel to reigning champions Basingstoke Bison on Saturday, before opening their home league campaign against Manchester Phoenix on Sunday.

Watkins has spent the last three weeks polishing his revamped squad with twice-daily training sessions at Telford Ice Rink and a string of pre-season games.

Those preparations closed with an emphatic 12-3 win over Hull Pirates last weekend, and Watkins is looking forward to a competitive start.

He said: “We’ve had a solid pre-season and the players are really looking forward to playing a fully competitive game, starting this weekend.

“It will be an interesting test going to Basingstoke and a tough game to start with, but from a coach’s point of view, this is what we do it all for.

“The video sessions, the planning meetings and the summer recruitment all go into the next 54 games. It is good to be back.”

Saturday’s trip to Basingstoke will see Tigers play a Bison side that held the upper hand on the south coast last season.

The EPL title holders lost popular forward Joe Greener during the summer, but have added former Tigers star Dan Davies and Vanya Antonov from Bracknell Bees.

Watkins added: “Basingstoke have changed a bit and the loss of Greener will be a big thing for them. Dan and Ivan are both quality players, but they bring a different style.

“It will be interesting this weekend, as they have a very capable team. Their netminding is solid and they all work very hard for each other.

“This is going to be a real test for us.”

Sunday night’s visit of Phoenix will be something of a step into the unknown for the Tigers.

The Phoenix – who will start the season in Blackpool – have signed just twelve outskaters so far and only trained together for the first time on Thursday night.

Watkins, however, is urging caution ahead of his side’s first home league game: “We have no idea if Manchester have finished their roster, so I’m not sure how they will line up.

“It makes them dangerous and they’ve got some good British players, as well as talented imports. They are dark horses.

“Sometimes if a team is short of players, it galvanizes them, so this will be a tricky weekend for us.”

(Image permission: James Baylis)

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