KEIGHLEY Cougars' head coach Rhys Lovegrove believes standards have slipped since excellent results against Dewsbury Rams and Sheffield Eagles in their January friendlies, and he blames a lack of game time for the drop-off.

Cougars were unbeaten in pre-season but suffered a disappointing Challenge Cup defeat at home to 12-man Newcastle Thunder, then a dispiriting 24-6 loss at Workington Town in their opening League One clash last Sunday.

One of the few bright spots in the Cumbria catastrophe was a late try for Jack Coventry from the interchange bench.

Lovegrove said the prop could be considered for a starting berth in this weekend's league game at Rochdale Hornets, who promise to be a big threat after their relegation from the Championship.

Discussing Coventry's chances of a start on Sunday, Lovegrove said: "Jack's one of those blokes that just quietly gets on with it, but it affects us when he's not there.

"I like having him in the team, he's a good fit.

"We'll look at what we need for Rochdale and think about whether starting him will help us."

Asked what Rochdale will bring to the table, Lovegrove said: "They're fairly similar to Workington but then they've got players from last year who are used to that higher tempo you get when playing in the Championship.

"That stands them in good stead and they've made great recruitment over the winter, bringing in (the vastly experienced) Sean Penkywicz and Martin Ridyard on loan from Leigh.

"They've strengthened in key positions and their structure will pose us a big challenge. They'll be there or thereabouts at the end of the season, so it's time for us to step up on Sunday."

A big step up is required from Keighley after Workington, and asked whether they are struggling to replicate the positives of pre-season in competitive action, Lovegrove said: "That's right.

"I noticed little things creeping in against Newcastle and the reasoning behind that is game time.

"We've had cancellations and not been on the field much to train and play, which is what we need.

"Our left edge leaked four of our five tries (conceded) against Workington and that's the side that have not played since Sheffield."

The misery was not just confined to the result either, as prop Dalton Desmond-Walker suffered a broken hand in Cumbria.

Lovegrove said: "Dalton will be a huge miss. He's adapted well to being a Cougars player and he's a good bloke who always trains hard.

"He brings a lot to the team. He's aggressive, direct and defensively he's second to none.

"I should find out the extent of his injury this week, so I've got my fingers crossed (for good news)."

Desmond-Walker and Ryan Wright are unlikely to play at Rochdale, while Lovegrove admits he is still sweating on the fitness of Ritchie Hawkyard and Ben Stead ahead of this weekend.