Cougars chairman Gary Fawcett says reaching the Tetley’s Challenge Cup quarter-finals will help secure the club financially for the rest of the season – and sees no reason why they cannot overcome Widnes.
Keighley had been hoping to land a bumper pay-day against one of their big West Yorkshire neighbours but were instead drawn away to the Vikings after reaching the last eight for the first time since 1997.
But Fawcett is still anticipating a financial boost and although the Super League outfit will be overwhelming favourites to reach the semi-finals, he believes Paul March’s side have the ability to cause an upset.
The televised last-eight tie will be played on Thursday, June 5 and Fawcett said: “I was relatively pleased to be drawn against Widnes as I think the crowd will be good and therefore the match commercials pretty beneficial.
“This will be a boost for the club and will help set us up for the rest of the season.
“Also, I think we might push Widnes close – we have the personnel who can do this – and you never know what can happen in the Challenge Cup.”
Fawcett paid tribute to March’s players for their 33-20 victory against Swinton Lions at the Leigh Sports Village, admitting he had feared the worst beforehand.
The Cougars supremo revealed: “I was worried on the way to Leigh, with major butterflies in my stomach, as Swinton represented a very big, slippery banana skin for us.
“It’s never easy playing Swinton as they are a dogged team and, alarmingly, they showed it in the second half after coming within one converted try of us.
“Thankfully the team displayed skill and resilience to open the gap to three scores and the Swinton resistance ebbed away and enabled us to move into the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup for the first time since 1997. I’m both proud and delighted.”
March had wanted to face Bradford or Leeds in the last eight and the player-boss said: “We wanted a West Yorkshire derby but it didn’t come out like that.
“Widnes are well supported but I’m sure a lot of Cougars fans will get themselves over there and it should be a good atmosphere.
“It could be an upset – it’s just how they play and how we play. But that’s why it’s the greatest knockout cup competition in the world.”
Widnes, who Keighley lost 18-5 to in the final at Wembley back in 1937, have made an encouraging start to their Super League campaign with six wins from nine games.
Denis Betts’ side also dumped big-spending Salford Red Devils out of the cup last weekend.
March said: “Denis has done a good job at Widnes and it’s only a few years ago when I was at Hunslet that we drew them in the Challenge Cup. We ended up knocking them out that day, so hopefully that’s a good omen.
“But Denis has got them playing really well with some quality players. I played with Kevin Brown at Huddersfield and he makes everything tick for them.
“But we’ve got four league games before and we can’t be distracted. We need to make sure we do our best in the league and the Challenge Cup game will take care of itself.”
Widnes’ controversial artificial i-pitch has often attracted criticism but March is not overly concerned by it.
He explained: “I’ve never played on it and I guarantee that no-one else from our team has either. It’ll be an experience for us but it will be a nice fast field.
“At the minute my structures and game-plan are geared towards playing fast, flowing rugby, so I’m sure the surface will help us.”
The Cougars return to Championship action on Sunday with a home match against Dewsbury Rams.
James Feather (groin), Andy Shickell (leg) and Ash Lindsay (shoulder) remain sidelined through injury and Elliott Cosgrove will be out for up to two months after undergoing surgery on a fractured eye socket.
But James Haley will be available again this weekend after missing the Swinton game with a back problem.
March said: “James Haley should be back and Buster (Feather) is getting closer and closer all the time – we just don’t want to push him too soon.
“But we’re in buoyant mood and have to take each game as it comes before the cup tie.
“It’ll be the same for Widnes. Who knows what form they will be in and what sort of team they will have available in a few weeks’ time?
“It’s up to us to make sure we keep getting the supporters in and it’s a great start for us to have Dewsbury at home after booking our place in the quarter-finals.
“If Cougarmania fans get behind us again then it should be a good day on Sunday.”
The curtain raiser for Sunday’s game will be Keighley Albion under-14s v Dewsbury Moor. Kick-off for this match will be 12.45pm and the Hall of Fame bar will be open from noon.