KEIGHLEY Cougars showed some signs last year that they could be a force to be reckoned with.

They won six games in a row at the end of the season to force their way into fourth place and a qualifying play-off.

Then, last-gasp defeats to Workington and Doncaster were all that denied them a place in the final and a potential promotion to the second tier.

Rather than bemoan their bad luck, Cougars rolled their sleeves up, strengthened on and off the field in pre-season, and have returned for 2022 like a team possessed.

Bouncing back from a January Challenge Cup exit to Hunslet, Cougars have won all 12 league games they have played this season, and currently sit six points clear at the summit, well on their way to automatic promotion.

A trip to London Skolars is up next tomorrow, and the capital club will no doubt be fearing another thumping, having already lost 96-0 at Cougar Park earlier this season.

But where has it gone so right for Cougars in 2022? I take a look at some of the key factors.

ATTACKING PROWESS

Keighley have racked up a mind-boggling 579 points this season in their 12 games, 115 more than next best Rochdale.

That means they are averaging just under 50 points a match, and have put 96 past London, racked up 86 against West Wales, and even scored 62 against only recently-relegated Oldham.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Cougars have been scoring tries at will all season. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.Cougars have been scoring tries at will all season. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.

Cougars score different types of tries, they share them around, and at the moment, teams just can't live with them going forward.

DEFENSIVE EXCELLENCE

Cougars are just as impressive at the other end, conceding just 90 points in the league so far.

To put that into some further context, every other team in the league has leaked at least 200.

They have already recorded four shutouts this term, and have conceded less than 10 points in a further three games.

As co-owner Ryan O'Neill admitted last week, a lack of defensive solidity probably cost them last season.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Cougars have not been afraid to scrap this season, and that solidity has seen them concede just 90 points. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.Cougars have not been afraid to scrap this season, and that solidity has seen them concede just 90 points. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.

It has certainly been addressed this time around.

BIG NAMES

Dane Chisholm probably shouldn't be playing in League 1, and the imperious Australian half-back shows that on pretty much a weekly basis.

With outrageous skills and a thirst for assists and tries, he is tearing apart defences at will, though he is about to start a two-game ban.

Jake Webster is a man with years of experience, and the former NRL man is still a huge presence in the centre at 38.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Jake Webster runs in for a try in the win over Doncaster earlier this term. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.Jake Webster runs in for a try in the win over Doncaster earlier this term. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.

Eddy Pettybourne and Junior Sa'u have just come in, with both having Super League and NRL experience, while Italy captain Brenden Santi and former Halifax skipper Scott Murrell were already there, as Cougars continue to build a formidable squad.

UNSUNG HEROES

Unsung might be the wrong word but these men might not have the star attraction of those above.

That does not mean they are not just as vital to the make-up to the team.

Jack Miller was League 1's top scorer last season and the half-back is leading the way this time around too.

Charlie Graham scored in nine consecutive matches earlier this term, while Mo Agoro is well clear at the top of the try-scoring charts, with an incredible 22 to his name already.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Mo Agoro scores the decisive try in Cougars' 20-16 win at Hunslet in April. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.Mo Agoro scores the decisive try in Cougars' 20-16 win at Hunslet in April. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.

The likes of Lewis Young, Nathan Roebuck and Aaron Levy are all having sterling seasons, while club legend James Feather is a regular, having initially retired five years ago.

OFF-FIELD OPERATIONS

Appointing Andrew Henderson as head of rugby was a masterstroke.

He has the contacts, in Super League and beyond, to help Cougars bring in big names, but also the right names.

He could quite easily be in a head coaching role somewhere else, but he clearly believes in the Keighley project.

He and head coach Rhys Lovegrove work well together, but Henderson coming in also allows the Australian to focus more on the tactical and technical side of things than he was able to do last year.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Andrew Henderson has been a key off-field appointment. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.Andrew Henderson has been a key off-field appointment. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.

As for those running the club, the ownership troubles are in the past.

Four years ago, Cougars had £34 in the club accounts and were hours from going bust.

Then, a takeover by Austria Holdings was mired in mystery and controversy, with allegations that bills and wages to players and staff had been unpaid or partly unpaid for six months.

But Mick O'Neill and co came back to save the day and we have since seen crowds improve, the stadium refurbished, social causes pushed and the team go from strength to strength.

The stars are aligning, and Cougars look a sure bet to be a Championship side next term.