KEIGHLEY Cougars remain top of Betfred League 1, overcoming a tricky afternoon in Birmingham to defeat the Midlands Hurricanes 25-18.

It had been a busy week for Matt Foster’s side prior to the game, with popular centre Charlie Graham leaving to join Championship side Halifax on loan for the rest of the season.

The blow of that departure was softened by the eye-catching signing of winger Ben Blackmore, who had left Bradford Bulls last month due to work commitments.

Blackmore was named in the 21-man squad for yesterday’s clash against the Hurricanes, but did not make the matchday line-up.

Nor did another former Bull in Brandon Pickersgill, who is currently nursing a broken finger.

And with Adam Ryder also missing after a setback in his recovery from the gashed leg he suffered in a win at North Wales last month, the Cougars backline was missing some big names yesterday.

That all led to a debut on the wing for Max Lambourne, with second row Ellis Robson partnering the experienced Junior Sa’u in the centres.

And a reshuffled Keighley made a dreadful start in Birmningham, with ex-Bulls head coach Mark Dunning seeing his side take the lead in the third minute through Matty Chrimes.

David Hewitt added the extras to put the hosts 6-0 in front, but Dunning’s men lost their momentum when Jon Luke-Kirby was sent to the sin-bin.

Cougars made the most of their man advantage, with Lewis Hatton and Lambourne both crossing for converted tries while the Hurricanes were down to 12 men.

The hosts, back to their full complement, had a try chalked off for a forward pass just before half time.

And they were punished further when Jack Miller’s drop goal seconds before the hooter put Keighley 13-6 in front.

Chrimes scored out wide early in the second half though, with Hewitt’s conversion putting the Hurricanes just a point behind.

Izaac Farrell forced his way over the whitewash soon after to increase Keighley’s lead, Miller’s conversion putting the visitors seven points in front.

Cougars looked to have finally made the game safe when prolific winger Billy Walkley scored a try just after the hour mark.

Miller added the extras to put the away side 25-12 ahead, but Dunning’s men cut the deficit once again with 10 minutes to go through a Liam Welham try.

Hewitt knocked over the conversion to bring his side within seven points, but the hosts failed to land any further blows on Cougars, as they retained their unbeaten away record this season.

Keighley are two points clear of title favourites Oldham, who they beat at the end of May, though Sean Long’s side do have a game in hand.

That comes in a fortnight at Newcastle Thunder, with Cougars not back in league action until they make the long trek down to Cornwall on Sunday, June 23.