Cougars player-coach Paul March is confident his side will be ready to hit top gear against Whitehaven in their Kingstone Press Championship opener on Sunday.

Keighley go into the clash on the back of three successive pre-season defeats at the hands of Barrow, Dewsbury and Batley.

But over a handful of players are set to return and March believes his side will hit the ground running.

The player-coach, who will retire from playing at the end of the season, was missing a number of key men during last weekend’s 30-0 reverse at Batley.

“We’re a dry-weather footballing team, so this period of pre-season was always going to be hard for us,” said March.

“But we’ve got about seven or eight players to come back in against Whitehaven and we’re raring to go.

“We’ll check on Ash Lindsay and his shoulder injury but there is a possibility he could play.

“We’ve got Andy Shickell, James Feather and Scott Law to come back into the side, so we’ll certainly be far stronger than we were at Batley. But it was good for some of the younger lads to get a run-out last week.”

Whitehaven coach Dave Woods is hoping that his side can nail a top-six finish – a position that seemed likely last year until a slump in form at the end of the campaign.

There has been a big turnover in Woods’ squad, with nine new faces and over a dozen leaving. Among the newcomers are former Bulls winger Shaun Ainscough and ex-Wigan stand-off Chris Taylor.

March said: “Whitehaven are something of an unknown quantity but they have made a few signings.

“We’ll need to keep an eye on Taylor, because I think Wigan regarded him highly, but it’s about us and we just need to concentrate on what we do.

“If the players follow my instructions and we stick to our structures and patterns, then we shouldn’t come unstuck.

“Our field has been holding up quite well during pre-season and it should be a drier track than it was at Batley last week.”

The Cougars are aiming for a bumper crowd of 3,000 this weekend after discounting adult tickets to £10 and £5 concessions for their first home league game.

These prices are only available online on the club’s official website and the offer will last until midnight on Saturday.

The Cougars are reminding fans that under-17s are free for all league games at Cougar Park this season.

March said: “Hopefully we can get a big crowd down to Cougar Park and hit the ground running.

“Cougars fans can create a really special atmosphere and their support definitely helps us, so the bigger the crowd the better this weekend.”