Cougars player-coach Paul March is predicting another tough clash when his side open their pre-season campaign at rivals Halifax on Sunday (3pm).

Fax have emerged as one of the strongest sides in the Championship in recent seasons and drew 30-30 with Castleford in a Boxing Day friendly.

Karl Harrison’s men are again fancied to be among the leading front-runners and March knows a stern test awaits.

Cougars have signed half-back Paul Handforth from Halifax and he is expected to feature at his old stomping ground, while March could field a number of his other new signings.

March, who is preparing for his last season as a player before he hangs up his boots, said: “They’re usually tight games and we’ve had players who have been at Halifax previously, which adds a bit of spice.

“Obviously we signed Tiger (Hand-forth) from there and we’ve had a few others in the last few years, so it’s always an interesting game.

“It’ll be good to see what we do in these pre-season games. You can’t read too much into them because obviously there will be a lot of changes.”

March endured a tough debut season as player-coach at Cougar Park, with his side only confirming their Championship status on the final day of the campaign.

He cites mitigating factors, such as injuries, for his side’s inconsistency but is confident they will be a stronger force in 2014.

He added: “I can understand why people say it was a tough baptism of fire but we lost a lot of key players at crucial times during the season.
“That inconsistency in availability affected us – not how I prepared the players.
“We’ve made some quality signings this year so hopefully we can keep them all fit.
“That’s our main aim – to keep everybody fit, be consistent and if we do that, we can compete with anybody.
“We showed that towards the end of last year when we went up to White-haven and put 50 points on them.”
On his own playing commitments this season, March said: “Obviously with Danny Jones and Paul Hand-forth being here, they will be the half-back combination and I will cover for them.
“Fingers crossed they don’t get injured but I’ve played in Super League at hooker as well so I could always come off the bench in that position too.
“This is my last year playing and I will just utilise myself where I’m needed.”