Written by Chris Jones
Date: Sunday 26th March 2017
Time: 3:00PM BST / 10:00AM EDT
Venue: Cougar Park, Keighley
The Wolfpack are unbeaten so far this season, and on Sunday they travel to Keighley to play the Cougars, a club with a long history in Rugby League. So who are the Keighley Cougars, and what do we know about the town they represent?
Keighley and the Cougars
The town of Keighley is located eleven miles northwest of the city of Bradford. It had a population of 56,348 in the 2011 census.
Apart from its Rugby League club and its history in the textile industry, Keighley is perhaps best known for the nearby town of Haworth, which was the home of the Bronte sisters in the nineteenth century. Chalotte, Emily and Anne created literary works became classics and are eagerly devoured by readers all over the world to this day, with tourists coming from all over the world to visit the Bronte Parsonage in Howarth.
Keighley is also the terminus of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, a heritage steam branch line which has been restored and runs through the Worth Valley. That line was used by the makers of the famous film ‘The Railway Children’ in 1970.
The town of Keighley has many Victorian buildings, mainly built using the local millstone grit, which gives many of its buildings a distinctive and dignified appearance.
The Keighley club is an old one. It was formed at a meeting held on 17 October 1876 under the presidency of the Reverend Marriner.
It officially joined the Rugby Football Union on Tuesday, 8 April 1879, in the days before the sport of rugby would split into separate codes.
In April 1885, the club merged with Keighley Cricket and Football Club, and from that time the club played at its current Lawkholme Lane ground.
In 1895 the club was not a founder member of the breakaway Northern Union, which later became the Rugby Football League, but on 12 April 1900 it decided to apply for membership of the Northern Union and it gained election on 14 July 1900.
Having switched codes to Rugby League, the club made steady progress over many years, and season 1925–26 season was notable for a first round Challenge Cup tie against their mighty neighbours Bradford Northern that had to be replayed twice. The aggregate attendance for those three games was nearly 47,000 and the total gate receipts of £3,043 constituted a record for a first round tie.
Keighley reached Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium in 1937 although they lost to Widnes 18–5 in front of 47,699 spectators.
Cougar Park’s current capacity is 7,800, but its highest attendance was 14,500 for a Challenge Cup clash against Halifax on 3 March 1951.
Keighley would struggle for many years in the lower reaches of league, but in 1991 three local businessmen – Mick O’Neil, Mike Smith and Neil Spencer – joined the board and re-branding the club, adding ‘Cougars’ to their name and improving the matchday experience, while the club undertook a series of initiatives in its local community, particularly in the field of drugs eduction what earned it a commendation from former Prime Minister John Major.
Since then, however, despite many ups and downs, its results have generally failed to match the club’s ambitions, and it has often run into financial difficulties and has re-formed on several occasions.
It currently sits seventh out of the 16 clubs in League 1, and last weekend, while the Wolfpack were enjoying a historic victory against London Broncos, the Cougars went out of the Challenge Cup, losing 20-0 to fellow League 1 club Barrow Raiders.
The Cougars will be without Sean Kelly (knee), Nathan Conroy (ankle) and Emmerson Whittel (jaw) for the visit of the Wolfpack. However, Scott Law (hamstring), Ritchie Hawkyard (ribs) and Matty Beharrell (knee) all are fit to play, as is Brad Nicholson (illness) who missed out on the defeat at Barrow last Saturday evening.
Cougars 19-man squad: Cougars 19-man squad: Andy Gabriel, Josh Casey, Matty Beharrell, Scott Law, James Feather, Josh Lynam, Brendon Rawlins, Mike Emmett, Adam Brook, Will Milner, Josh Tonks, Matt Bailey, Nathan Kitson, Ritchie Hawkyard, Fran Welsh, Ben Sagar, Vinny Finigan, Brad Nicholson, Adam Ryder.
The Wolfpack will be without Fuifui Moimoi, who will serve the final game of his three-match suspension for a shoulder charge in last month’s victory at Siddal. Apart from centre Greg Worthington, who is still out injured, and utility back Reece Dean, who is on a month’s loan at Sheffield Eagles, the Wolfpack have a fully fit squad to choose from.
Wolfpack 19-man squad: Quentin Laulu-Togagae, Jonny Pownall, Craig Hall, Liam Kay, Blake Wallace, Rhys Jacks, Bob Beswick, Daniel Fleming, Andrew Dixon, James Laithwaite, Gary Wheeler, Ryan Burroughs, Shaun Pick, Richard Whiting, Steve Crossley, Tom Dempsey, Adam Sidlow Toby Everett, Jake Emmitt.
So far the Wolfpack have found themselves playing on two kinds of pitches – heavy pitches badly affected by rain and artificial pitches.
The team has clearly performed better on faster artificial pitches such as the ones it found at London Skolars and London Broncos, but the Keighley pitch has suffered recently in wet weather and the Wolfpack could find themselves in another tight slog along the lines of the games against Siddal and Whitehaven, although the weather in West Yorkshire has become much dryer in the springlike conditions of the last few days.
The Wolfpack will be hoping their pack can dominate the home six, although one of the most interesting battles will take place in the centre, where Wolfpack captain Craig Hall will face Keighley’s leading tryscorer this season Adam Ryder, who joined the Cougars in January from a local rugby union club and has already made a good impressions with the local fans.
The Cougars suffered a shock defeat earlier this month to Gloucestershire All Golds and, after their disappointing Challenge Cup exit to Barrow last week they will be desperate to make amends to their supporters.
Cougars Head Coach Craig Lingard is hoping that his team doesn’t take too much notice of the Wolfpack’s early good results.
“We just need to get our own house in order and not worry about them too much. It is important we don’t get over-awed by the occasion too much and we concentrate on doing what we need to do,” he said.
“If we can challenge in that first 20-25 minutes and keep it nice and tight then you never know what can happen.”
This match preview has been presented in association with the English weekly newspaper League Express.