Former Sheffield star Ricky set to prove his worth as Kozza’s replacement

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Berwick’s speedway Bandits have signed up 2009 Premier League Riders’ Champion Ricky Ashworth as a replacement for their currently injured Australian Kozza Smith, writes Lawrence Heppell.

Early in January, Smith, last season’s Rider of the Year, suffered a badly broken femur as a result of a chilling high-speed crash involving Swindon rider Troy Batchelor during the opening leg of the Australian Championship Series at North Brisbane, Queensland.

With an orthopaedic prognosis of up to six months for a full recovery by Smith, Bandits’ bosses have chosen the 29-year-old from Salford, Lancashire, to take his place in their starting line-up.

“Several riders were considered, even talked to, to fill the role,” admitted team boss Ian Rae.

“But we weren’t really getting the right results from these discussions. Some riders wanted too much money or warned us they would miss some of our meetings. Or both! We were facing a brick wall.

“However, out of the blue on Sunday we took a call from Sheffield’s promoter David Hoggart to say that Ashworth, who everyone thought would be joining Plymouth, hadn’t been able to come to terms with the Devils. Would we be interested?

“Yes we were!

“I obviously questioned the validity but was assured it was true. A rider of Ricky’s ability is too good to overlook, bearing in mind our current circumstances, and we commenced negotiations on Monday to bring him to Shielfield Park.”

Ashworth will take over our Number One race-jacket for the opening fixtures and with his known abilities around Shielfield Park the outfit are confident their squad will be every bit as solid as they had expected it to be, had Kozza not been injured.

Among his many honours Ashworth has won the PLRC, the PL Pairs (with Josh Auty) in 2010 and was part of the Sheffield squad that won the Premier League and KO Cup double.

z The latest reports from Australia regarding 18-year-old Brenton Barnfield, who was seriously injured during the Australian Under-21 Championship event at Kurri-Kurri, NSW, are encouraging.

The young Bandit, from Mildura in Victoria, was rushed to hospital with head injuries after what team-mate Kozza Smith, present at the meeting on crutches, reported as a “massive crash”.

He was placed in intensive care, and – to ease his situation – medical staff initially induced a coma.

However, his mum Vicki has advised Bandits’ officials that hospital authorities are assuring her of continuing improvement in her son’s condition.

“He is out of intensive care, and has even been able to have a shower,” she reported.

“He can talk to us a bit and knows everybody – but has absolutely no memory at all of the 48 hours prior to the meeting.”