BOSS Neil Middleditch believes fitness will hold the key to a flying start for Pirates despite receiving a tough opening to their Elite League campaign.

After kicking off with two home fixtures, reigning champions Poole take to the road in their next four with 10 top flight meetings scheduled for the first 32 days of the season.

Pirates begin their title defence at home to Eastbourne on Wednesday, April 9, before a double-header home and away to Swindon on Good Friday (April 18).

They follow that with trips to Birmingham, new boys Leicester and Belle Vue before finishing April at home to the Brummies.

But on the back of changes to team building rules, Middleditch insisted Pirates' pre-season preparations would prove critical during the opening weeks - whoever his team face on the track.

Poole's manager told the Daily Echo: “With the new rules in place it will be difficult to predict how things will pan out. A lot of it rests on who comes back the fittest.

“A few of our boys are racing abroad and others like Darcy Ward are training hard to keep themselves sharp. We will be well prepared and, with the talent we have in the team, the fixtures certainly don't hold any fear for us.

“There are some very good teams about this year - Swindon and Belle Vue in particular - but I expect the league to take at least two or three weeks to settle down.”

Prior the start of the league season, Pirates will host a Gary Havelock farewell meeting on Friday, March 21 before a two-legged challenge match with Lakeside Hammers.


MARCH 21: Gary Havelock farewell (H), 26: Lakeside (H), Ch 28: Lakeside (A) Ch. 

APRIL 9: Eastbourne (H) EL 18: Swindon (H) EL. 18: Swindon (A) EL, 23: Birmingham (A) EL, 24: Leicester (A) EL, 28: Belle Vue (A) EL, 30: Birmingham (H) EL. 

MAY 5: Wolverhampton (A) EL, 7: Belle Vue (H) EL, 10 Eastbourne (A) EL ,14: Lakeside (H) EL, 21: Coventry (H) EL, 22: King's Lynn (A) EL, 24: Lakeside (A) EL, 28: King's Lynn (H) EL.

JUNE 4: Wolverhampton (H) EL, 11: Leicester (H) EL ,18: Reserved (H), 20: Coventry (A) EL, 25: Birmingham (H) EL, 30: Belle Vue (A) EL. 

JULY 2: Wolverhampton (H) EL, 9: Belle Vue (H) EL, 10: Swindon (A) EL, 16: Coventry (H) EL, 19: Eastbourne (A) EL, 21: Birmingham (A) EL, 23 King's Lynn (H) EL.

AUGUST 4: Wolverhampton (A) EL, 6: Swindon (H) EL, 8: Lakeside (A) EL, 13: Lakeside (H) EL, 14: King's Lynn (A) EL, 20: Leicester (H) EL, 23: Leicester (A) EL, 27: Eastbourne (H) EL.

SEPTEMBER 3: Reserved (H), 5: Coventry (A) EL.