Shropshire Star

Matt Maher: Rory Schlein is back and ready to put it all on the line again

If the past few years have taught Rory Schlein anything, it is never say never.


Barely 18 months ago, speedway was no longer part of his future. Schlein and his young family were destined for a new life in his native Australia and a 20-year career racing bikes in the UK, the last four of which had been spent at Wolverhampton, was over.

Emotionally and physically, Schlein was spent.

“I remember speaking to my wife, Natalie, after the last meeting at Monmore and saying: ‘I’m done’. There was nothing left in the tank,” he says.

And yet there was Schlein last Monday at Wolves’ pre-season press day, lining up for photographs, looking in terrific nick and ready to explain why he is preparing to put it all on the line again in one of the toughest and most unforgiving of sports.

“What happened?!” he laughs. “Well, sometimes life throws you a curve ball and you just have to swing for it as hard as you can.”

The first and most important thing to understand about Schlein’s comeback is it is less a story about sport, than life. Or, to be even more precise, economics.

Team-mates meeting up again with the 38-year-old this week guessed at a born racer not yet ready to kick the habit of a sport which remains addictive to its protagonists, no matter how many bruises it delivers. This is, after all, a man who previously returned to speedway after sustaining a back injury so serious it was initially feared he might never walk again.

Yet Schlein was genuine when he said he was finished. The truth is he would almost certainly have remained retired had the move back Down Under, already delayed 12 months by the pandemic, turned out anything like he and his family had hoped.

“I think at any other time, we would have been fine,” he explains. “But we got back to Australia and found the whole world, economically, had changed.

“We probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to go back. What we had planned, what we had envisioned, didn’t really evolve or materialise how we had wanted.

“Ultimately, we had to put it all down on paper and see where we would be better off as a family. It all pointed back here.”

The suggestion Schlein combine a return to the UK with a return to speedway, meanwhile, came from an unlikely source.

“Natalie was a big factor in me calling it a day and now, she is a big factor in me riding again,” reveals Schlein. “Without her, I wouldn’t have done it.

“She said it would be good for me. She said: ‘You love it. If you are back there and racing, it will be something normal’.” Schlein himself was initially uncertain, all too aware a comeback would be tough. For one thing, he’d already sold all but one of his bikes.

Yet from the moment he sat back on the saddle for practice laps around Adelaide’s Gillman raceway, his mind was made up.

“Nothing had changed. It was like I had never been off the bike,” he recalls. “I did a meeting where I was up against the likes of Adam Ellis and Jamie Lindsay and I was on the pace, beating some of them.

“That was 14 months, straight off the settee. Not too bad.

“The question was, am I still hungry? Those meetings in Australia told me I was.”

The next challenge for Schlein was to find a team. His first calls went to Wolves promoter Chris Van Straaten and Matt Ford, owner of the Poole team with whom he won the 2021 Championship.

Van Straaten this week told the Express & Star how he initially thought he was the victim of a “wind-up” when he received a text from Schlein which simply read: “I’m on my way back boss.”

But any doubts the former British champion wasn’t entirely serious about a return were quickly dispelled.

“I wanted to do it the right way and I said I would only come back if the BSPA thought it was OK,” says Schlein. “I didn’t want to create waves.”

Though Schlein’s strong farewell season meant his average was slightly higher than Wolves would ideally have liked, Van Straaten and team boss Peter Adams found a way. Listening to Schlein speak about the Premiership season ahead on Monday, it was as though he had never been away.

“I don’t do things half-hearted and if I am honest, I have a bit of unfinished business here,” he says. “I have come close to winning it all with Wolves a couple of times. The 2017 season still hurts now.

“I am just keen to do what I can, bring the team what I know I can.”

He’s picked an exciting time to return. An influx of big-name riders at opposing teams means this year threatens to be one of the most competitive ever. For Schlein, that’s all the better.

“Maybe we do not jump off the page like Belle Vue and Sheffield but it’s good we are coming in under the radar, in my opinion,” he says.

“All these teams who have these big-name riders, are going to be expected to win wherever they go. But I’ll tell you now, when they come to Wolves, they are not going to have an easy time of it.”

As for what the long-term future holds, it’s impossible to say. Schlein, still awaiting surgery on one shoulder having had the other fixed in Australia, plans to race this season and next and then see how he feels.

“I have to be realistic about the body,” he says.

Any decision will be taken with Natalie and his two young daughters in mind, with a sense of perspective further sharpened by the experience of the past few years.

A 2020 season lost to the pandemic meant for the first time, Schlein had to look for a job outside speedway in order to pay the bills. He found a good one at a logistics company, near to the family home in Coventry and has now returned to both.

“It is not that I treat the sport any less seriously,” he says. “But I’ve realised speedway isn’t everything. You need something else, away from it.

“I was fortunate to find a position in a company who support me and let me race.

“You can’t race forever. You’d be stupid to think that. You need a balance and I think I’ve got one which will allow me to compete to my full ability as well.

“You just never know what life is going to throw at you.”