PLAYER of the year Matthew Bailey believes a top-three finish should be a minimum target for Cougars next year.

Keighley just missed out on the top five last season, falling short by only two points after defeat at Barrow on the final day of the Super 8s.

But Bailey, who won the Player of the Year accolade for a second successive campaign earlier, has been encouraged by their off-season signings and believes the team will be a force to be reckoned with in 2018.

He said: "With the signings we've made, the minimum we've got to be looking at is the play-offs – even the top two or three is a minimum really.

"We were one of the top point-scorers last season, it was just our defence that let us down at times.

"It was a bit of an up-and-down season. At times we let ourselves down, but at other times, like against Toronto, we proved that we can be up there with the best.

"I think if we can seal the defence up this year and still score as many points, we're definitely looking at the top two."

Eleven additions have bolstered a squad that enjoyed a promising first year under Craig Lingard.

As well as good results, the head coach brought more attractive performances to Cougar Park and Bailey believes that helped to bring out the best in him as he claimed the top prize – and the players' player of the year – at the club's awards night.

"It opens the game up a bit more. There's more space in the defence because we're playing more expansive across the whole field, so the middle player opens space up and it helps a lot more," he explained.

But even so, the prop forward admits he was not expecting to pick up the trophy again.

"Obviously it feels good, but I can't say I was expecting it this year with some great players in the team," Bailey said.

"The players' player is the one that everyone wants to win, as it's knowing that your fellow players think you've done well during the year, so it's definitely the better one."

Lingard said Bailey's contribution might sometimes go under the radar but that the player's acclaim was fully deserved.

The head coach said: "When I came to the club and people told me about 'Bails' – that he’s not someone you’d notice, particularly as a spectator watching the game.

"He doesn’t make these barnstorming runs and he doesn’t necessarily put these massive shots on but the work that he does is absolutely outstanding.

"He does big minutes, he has a got a bit of skill, he’s got some late footwork and the metres that he can make after contact are impressive."

Lingard said the prop's strength in the ruck also plays an important part in their attack.

He said: "The amount of times that he stands up in the ruck is significant, which people might not see the importance of. "But if you are not being put to the ground then you are playing the ball five or six seconds quicker than if you are.

"The number of times that Bails stands up in the ruck plays into our hands with the smart nines that we’ve got.

"The work he does is phenomenal and the fact that he got the players’ player – that’s the main award that any player wants to win because it shows how much he is respected and admired within the team."