KEIGHLEY Cougars kick off their competitive season this Sunday with an AB Sundecks 1895 Cup fixture at home to Dewsbury.

And Matt Foster’s side will be looking to emulate the Rams’ 2023 campaign this year, as they target this competition as a way to build a foundation for their assault on promotion from Betfred League 1.

Two sides will go up from the third tier, like Dewsbury and Doncaster last season, to play in the Championship in 2025.

And though big-spending Oldham seem to be in pole position, Foster is happy with where that leaves Cougars.

He told the Keighley News: “Oldham will be the favourites, but we can sit comfortably under their shadow and do what we need to do.

“We haven’t particularly talked about expectations and demands, we’ve just talked about making sure we get the right kind of people to do the right kind of jobs.

“We need to be doing that consistently throughout the year.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Max Lambourne and Adam Ryder will both have a part to play in Keighley's promotion push.Max Lambourne and Adam Ryder will both have a part to play in Keighley's promotion push. (Image: JT Sports Media.)

And that all starts with that 1895 Cup opener against Dewsbury at Cougar Park this weekend.

Asked how he views the group stage, which sees Keighley face the Rams on Sunday and then Bradford Bulls on February 18, Foster said: “We view those games as competitive ones, while also using them to create a little bit of an identity for ourselves.

“That’s an identity where defensively we’re very strong and physical and we show that we can actually mix with those Championship teams we’re up against.

“We see the 1895 Cup as an opportunity to create a good platform for the league, but we also view it as a competition we want to do well in as well.”

Foster was over in Australia, where had lived for 15 years before taking the Cougars job last July, until six weeks ago, but is now settled back in England and has no plans to head Down Under again until after the 2024 season.

And he insisted that his late return for pre-season was nothing compared to being parachuted into the head coach role at Cougars last summer.

He said: “You mentioned it might have been hard for me coming back a couple of weeks before the Boxing Day game with Oldham, but everything was structured and in place, so there were no dramas.

“It was a lot tougher coming in last July, looking to make a stamp on things, introducing my ideas, getting to know players and trying to get the team going with a week before our next game.

“It was tough last year, and we came in with the express detail of trying to stay in the division.

“That didn’t happen, so this year is about putting that right.”

And Foster feels he has the squad, put together with the help of director of rugby Jake Webster and chief operating officer Steven Watkinson, to do that.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Matt Foster with his trusted captain Ellis Robson last weekend.Matt Foster with his trusted captain Ellis Robson last weekend. (Image: JT Sports Media.)

He said: “We’re very happy with the amount of guys that wanted to stay.

As a trio, Ste, Jake and I wanted to create the new group moving forward out of that nucleus of players that we knew, first of all, were good people, but also good rugby league players with experience that could bring other lads along.

“We’ve now got a good mix of young and old players that hopefully can gel well together, go well in League 1 and create a platform for the year after too.”