Whitehaven 28 Keighley Cougars 18

COUGARS performance director Paul Royston is expecting a significant improvement in Sunday’s home clash with Batley after his side lost on Tuesday.

Shaun Ainscough’s late try handed Whitehaven victory and dealt a setback to Cougars’ quest to safeguard their Championship status. The former Bulls winger scored three minutes from time from Brett Seymour’s delightful pass but Paul March’s side at least claimed a bonus point.

Paul White, one of 11 players brought back into the side following last Thursday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final exit at Widnes, finished clinically with 14 minutes remaining.

That was converted by Danny Jones to edge Cougars 18-16 in front but late scores from Carl Foster and Ainscough handed the Cumbrians victory.

Royston said: “We got a losing bonus point but we were good enough to win it on the night and went away from the game-plan in the second half.

“We’re very disappointed because it was close to our full-strength team. We stayed in the arm-wrestle well into the second half but then just didn’t stick to our structures and that cost us.

“Yet bonus points are crucial in this division and that’s why it was important to at least come away with something.

“It’s been a relatively tough sequence of games but we’ve got to get back into the winning habit again now - starting at home to Batley on Sunday.“The players have accepted the fact they didn’t perform as well as they should have done on Tuesday night and we’ve got a chance to put it right at the weekend.”

March recalled key men such as White, Jones, Richie Barnett, James Haley, Paul Handforth, Andrew Shickell, James Feather, Sean Hesketh, Brendon Rawlins and Ashley Lindsay.

Club captain James Feather opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a well-taken effort which Jones converted. But the lead lasted only nine minutes as Whitehaven hit back when Chris Taylor crossed the line despite suspicions of crossing in the build-up.

Whitehaven, bolstered by the inclusion of former Bulls pair Cain Southernwood and Ainscough as well as ex-Hull FC playmaker Seymour, scored again when Jessie Joe Parker went over in the 29th minute.

But four minutes later Cougars struck again when Danny Lawton scampered clear and Jones’ second conversion gave the visitors a 12-10 interval lead.

Although Scott McAvoy restored Whitehaven’s lead in the 55th minute, Cougars edged back in front through White’s tidy finish but the hosts soon regained control.

Foster went over from a scrum and then Ainscough finished well from Seymour’s superb pass.

Feather picked up a knee injury and will be assessed ahead of Sunday’s match.

Whitehaven: Carr, Calvert, Taylor, Parker, Ainscough, Seymour, Southernwood, Tahraoui, Newton, Foster, McAvoy, Mitchell, Doran Substitutes: Thorman, Quinn, Robinson, Crellin.

Cougars: Jesse Sheriffe, Barnett, Lawton, Haley, White, Jones, Handforth, Shickell, Feather, Hesketh, Lynam, Rawlins, Lindsay. Subs: Jode Sheriffe, Sagar, Cherryholme, Haigh.

Referee: Jamie Bloem