Widnes Vikings 56, Keighley Cougars 6
Paul March emerged from the pub to pay tribute to his players after a severely-understrength Cougars slipped to a predictable Tetley’s Challenge Cup exit last night.
The player-coach was not allowed in the ground due to his two-month stadium ban for abusing a match official against Leigh in March.
Instead he watched the game on Sky in the nearby Cricketers Arms, and he could not hide his pride in his players’ performance.
Despite being comprehensively beaten by Super League outfit Widnes, there was no denying the spirit in Cougars’ ranks after they battled hard, despite being without almost half a dozen players.
March rested the bulk of his key men ahead of Tuesday’s important Kingstone Press Championship match at Whitehaven.
He addressed the media in the car park after the match and said: “I’ve been in the pub, the Cricketers, and it was a bit different but the locals made me welcome.
“At least I had a front row seat to watch the boys and I thought we performed excellently.
“They had Widnes on the handicap by 58 points so I would say that’s a moral victory for us, especially with the team I had out.
“But they were all first-team members and it just shows the strength in depth we have at the moment.”
Daley Williams’ try early in the second half gave Cougars’ travelling fans reason for cheer after March made 11 changes to the side which lost to Halifax on Sunday.
Oliver Pursglove started after returning to the club and there was a senior debut for Charlie Eccleston and only a second start for rookie half-back Ben Stead as March’s priorities were clear for all to see.
Widnes’ Super League pedigree told from the outset as they quickly built up a head of steam with three tries in the opening ten minutes through Declan Hulme, Tom Gilmore and Kevin Brown.
The in-form Brown soon grabbed his second before further scores from Jack Owens and Stefan Marsh made it 32-0 at the break.
Willie Isa scored for Widnes immediately after the restart but Cougars hit back when the impressive Stead’s neat pass sent Williams over from close range and the creator added the extras.
Cougars, who lost 18-5 to Widnes in their only Challenge Cup final appearance in 1937, did not lack fighting spirit but Widnes’ superior fitness and class continued to tell as Danny Craven scored while Gilmore went on to complete a hat-trick.
March added: “We battled well and I think we only gave one penalty away. It was frustrating not being out there myself but the lads have done me proud tonight.”
Widnes: Hanbury, Owens, Dean, Marsh, Hulme, Brown, Gilmore, Clough, White, Gerrard, Tickle, Galea, Leuluai.
Interchange: Kavanagh, Allen, Isa, Craven.
Cougars: Sheriffe; Lawton, Williams, Graham, Duffy; Kelly, Stead, Law, Lee, Peltier, Eccleston, Pursglove, Sagar.
Interchange: Haigh, Patchett, Cherryholme, Lynam.
Keighley player-coach Paul March has been refused permission to play on loan for Kingstone Press Championship One side Hemel Stags during his two-month stadium ban.
March, 34, had hoped to maintain his match fitness by turning out for Hemel in their games against Oldham on Sunday and Gloucestershire All Golds on July 6.
However, a spokesman for the Rugby Football League confirmed that the governing body declined to accept the registration under the operational rule that "protects the integrity of the competitions and prevent the game being brought into disrepute".