DARCY Ward lit the blue touch paper ahead of the season launch at Wimborne Road by confidently predicting a play-off final shootout between Pirates and Rye House.

Poole are among the favourites to lift the SGB Premiership crown while top-flight new boys Rye House have assembled an impressive septet spearheaded by Scott Nicholls and Chris 'Bomber' Harris – who have no fewer than 10 British titles between them.

Last season, Pirates failed to reach the play-off final for the first time since 2009. And crowd favourite Ward, a winner of three Elite League crowns with the Dorset club before his career was ended by serious spinal injuries, reckons his former team will soon return to the showpiece meeting.

But speaking ahead of tonight's Darcy Ward Invitational (7.30pm), the ex-Poole flier reckons Rye House hold the edge, on paper at least.

Ward told the Daily Echo: "I think Poole are a final team. They will probably be favourites with the bookies and I like the look of Rye House. I've picked them to make the final as well.

"I think Rye House are the team to beat. Scotty and Bomber will do a good job and will probably be two of the best riders in the league. Then you have riders like Davey Watt and Edward Kennett who you don't know what they are going to do.

"But overall I think they have a pretty strong team.

"Of course, I want to see Poole win but it's the season hasn't started yet and no one has even turned a wheel. It's all paperwork at the moment, it all depends how it goes and injuries play a part as well."

Alongside Nicholls, Harris, Watt and Kennett, the Rockets have the know-how of Stuart Robson in their ranks, as well as Poole asset Ellis Perks and fellow youngster Robert Branford.

Like Ward, Pirates team boss Neil Middleditch believes the Hoddesdon side will prove a dangerous proposition.

He told the Daily Echo: "Rye House have a very interesting line-up and certainly have plenty of experience.

"They fall down a little bit on the reserve side but if the top five do their jobs, they are going to be a really tough team to beat."

Ward believes the fortunes of the majority of riders in the British top flight are difficult to foresee. And he includes those in Poole's ranks among that number.

The Aussie star said: "Most riders in the league are a bit unpredictable. If I was Matt Ford, I wouldn't know how the season was going to go.

"We don't know how Krzysztof Kasprzak is going to go. He could easily have a good season or a bad season and it's the same with Hans Andersen. Nicolai Klindt could easily have a great season but he could also have a poor season.

"That's the way the league as a whole is playing out."

Darcy Ward Invitational field: Emil Sayfutdinov, Chris Holder, Jason Doyle, Krzysztof Kasprzak, Hans Andersen, Rory Schlein, Nick Morris, Piotr Pawlicki, Przemek Pawlicki, Troy Batchelor, Josh Grajczonek, Davey Watt, Brady Kurtz, Nicolai Klindt, Kyle Newman, Todd Kurtz.