KEIGHLEY Cougars’ head coach Rhys Lovegrove has admitted there were not many options on the table, but he could not be happier with the two pre-season opponents his side are facing.

Keighley host Oldham this weekend, before playing them again in their league opener in three weeks’ time, while they welcome Swinton to Cougar Park next Sunday.

Lovegrove said: “The fact we’re facing Oldham first up in the league was probably a factor in the discussion I had with (Cougars’ head of rugby) Andrew Henderson about what we needed from our friendlies.

“We should have had one against North Wales, but they’ve stayed in the Challenge Cup, and our options were really limited with who we could play with the Super League and Championship seasons having already started.

“Then you have Doncaster, who don’t like to have pre-season games against other League 1 sides, West Wales is too far away, and I’m not even sure if Cornwall have a team ready to play friendlies yet.

“We had to factor in that we wanted to play good-quality sides too, as we need that challenge to know where we’re at as a team.”

He added: “We started 2021 slowly, and only won two of our first five league games, so I felt we needed good opposition in these friendlies to test and stretch ourselves.

“There’s no better way for us to do that than against the two sides who were relegated from last year’s Championship, and who’ll be fighting for promotion like us.

“Both coaches have different playing philosophies too, so it’ll good to have two different tests.”

Asked about selection for both upcoming friendlies, Lovegrove said: “The whole team will get minutes against Oldham.

“There’ll be some structure, a loose interpretation of what we’ve seen in training, and then that team will get cut for Swinton.

“Oldham is an opportunity for everyone as we haven’t played for a while.

“We did have Hunslet in the Challenge Cup in January, but in terms of the systems and processes I like to play, it can almost be ignored, as the players were basically just thrown out there having not worked on any team stuff.

“But for the likes of Matt Bailey and Brad Ho, I want them to have two stints against Oldham, as they didn’t get chance to play at all at Hunslet.”

Ho is on loan at Cougars from Bradford, and the two clubs have a partnership for 2022 which means the former’s fringe players can get minutes at the latter in reserve grade rugby league.

Lovegrove said: “The Bulls link is fantastic for us.

“I’m a big advocate of the reserves system, and I know Super League coaches use it too.

“We had three of our lads playing for Bulls against the Rhinos last Saturday, and some of those Leeds boys are pushing for first grade rugby in Super League.

“It’s also an opportunity for players to work on things and prove they’re getting better in a game situation, if they’re out of our team after missing a few tackles for example.

“And a couple of our boys that have played reserves games for Bulls this season will be rewarded for their performances in those against Oldham.”