Cougars 36, Whitehaven 14

Cougars second-rower Josh Lynam’s try on his 21st birthday helped secure a deserved opening-day victory over Whitehaven.

The visitors did start the match well but three tries in quick succession in the first half saw them having to chase the game.

Keighley’s defence then held out strong and Paul March was pleased with the way his team performed.

The Cougars player-coach said: “We got the three points and that’s what we wanted.

“We talked about the arm wrestle in the first 20 minutes. They set their stall out early and looked to get points when they could and they couldn’t break us.

“We scrambled well but there is stuff we can improve on which shows us how good this side can be.

“But overall that’s what we wanted and it sets us up for Doncaster next weekend.”

Former Bradford play-maker Cain Southernwood kicked a penalty early on but the Cougars replied when James Feather sent a short pass to Sean Hesketh, who powered his way over the line. Paul Handforth then converted to put the hosts four points up.

Keighley extended their advantage shortly after. Once again attacking on the back of a penalty, Handforth put in a delicate grubber kick which Scott Law read to perfection on his way to touching the ball down.

Handforth added the extras once more – and the Cougars were quickly over for their third try in rapid succession.

A loose carry by Scott McAvoy saw the centre gift the ball to Elliot Cosgrove, who then found March in support to finish things off.

Handforth goaled to make it 18-2 but it was not long before Whitehaven hit back.

Gardner skipped past two defenders close to the line before stepping through James Craven back on the inside for the score.

Southernwood cut the deficit to ten points with the conversion going into half-time.

The visitors started the first half the stronger in attack but they failed to turn possession into points – and the home side made them pay.

A break from Daley Williams saw the centre stopped just short of the line but the damage had already been done.

From the next play, March played a swooping ball out wide, giving Cosgrove a clear pathway to cross. Handforth duly made the score 24-8 with the boot.

Whitehaven then clawed their way back into bonus-point territory as Jesse Joe Parker shrugged off Williams’ tackle before diving in for the try. Southernwood slotted over a tricky two to keep them in the match.

But any chance of a comeback was snuffed out when Lynam went over for a try to secure the win for the home side, with Handforth adding the extras.

Paul White’s late score then put the icing on the cake for March’s men, as Handforth again converted to complete the scoring.

Cougars: Craven; Barnett, Williams, Cosgrove, White; March, Handforth; Shickell, Feather, Hesketh, Lynam, Rawlins, Sagar. Replacements: Law, Cherryholme, Lee, Peltier.

Whitehaven: Carr; Calvert, McAvoy, Fox, Gardner; Taylor, Southernwood; Culnean, Newton, Jackson, Tarahoui, Mitchell, Doran. Replacements: Parker, Thorman, Hand, Marabe.

Attendance: 1,061.