SOMERSET Rebels Speedway kick off their 2018 season tomorrow, and there's undoubtedly a mood of optimism around the Oaktree Arena.

The headline news - it was only mentioned a few dozen times at yesterday's Press & Practice Day - is that they go into this campaign with the 2017 world champion Jason Doyle in their roster.

Doyle captains a team which has four new names, and three riders retained from last season, which saw the Rebels finish sixth on their top flight debut.

If last year was about consolidation, this time around team manager Garry May and his charges are targeting the Premiership playoffs.

May said: "We learned a lot of lessons last year - we had to get a decent number one, because we were struggling in heats 13 and 15, and hopefully we've got over that problem for this year.

"I'd like to make the playoffs if we can, and I think we've got the team that can do it.

"We've got our out-and-out number one [Doyle] who can score us a lot of points, and the other six riders can all put points on their averages so should all score well."

Doyle added: "It's an exciting time for Somerset, and for myself to come back after so many years is good for my racing and hopefully for the club.

"I think we need to focus on making the finals; I think we can shine through with the level-headed bunch of boys that we have.

"There are many teams with strong line-ups, but you never know what can happen.

"A strong team on paper might not perform, so hopefully all seven of us can perform and do a good job."

The 32-year-old Australian has returned to the Rebels for his third spell, having previously ridden for Somerset in 2008 and 2012/13.

He departed Premiership champions Swindon under a bit of a cloud, and Rebels promoter Debbie Hancock - who has been friends with Doyle for years - was quick to call him up.

Eventually she managed to talk him round and negotiate a deal, despite him living in Norwich!

Doyle may be the main man, but as Hancock was eager to point out, there are six very good riders supporting him.

Fellow Australian Jake Allen returns, as does last season's rider of the year Richard Lawson, with Charles Wright also coming back for his sixth consecutive season with the Rebels.

Jack Holder, the Australian Under-21 champion in 2016, joins from Poole, while two-time New Zealand national champion Bradley Wilson-Dean has come in from Swindon.

The septet is completed by Jonas Jeppesen, the 2016 Danish Under-21 champion, who will be riding in England for the first time.

Speedway fans coming down to the Oaktree Arena will find a track that has had a lot of work done to it over the winter, with Hancock hoping that the efforts to improve drainage should save meetings from being postponed due to wet weather.

Team boss May added: "The Somerset track is exciting, with a lot of overtaking.

"Some tracks are just 'follow the leader', but this is a good track and I think we've got a decent racing team this year for fans to enjoy all season."

The season kicks off tomorrow with a Knock Out Cup tie against Poole Pirates; it was supposed to be a double-header, but the away leg has been postponed due to the wet weather.

The home leg at the Oaktree (7.30pm) is still scheduled to go ahead, though, and the Rebels begin their Premiership challenge on Wednesday (April 4) at home to Rye House Rockets.

The Burnham & Highbridge Weekly News and Somerset County Gazette will have reports from each Somerset match as the season progresses - so watch this space!