KEIGHLEY Cougars' 2019 League One campaign started with a spirited 26-16 defeat at Whitehaven.

After a troubled off-season had robbed them of preparation time, it was a brave effort from Craig Lingard's side, who had just one pre-season match before this opener.

Now under new owners from the club's famous Cougarmania era - and backed by a healthy 200 strong following - Keighley showed fight from the word go.

They were nearly over for the first score when Josh Lynam was held up over the line.

The visitors did break the deadlock just two minutes later as full-back Matt Welham broke through the line with a show and go before racing round to touch down.

After staunch defending to keep the hosts out, Keighley doubled their lead when Benn Hardcastle put a chip over the top on the last and Jack Miller plucked it out of the air to cross the whitewash.

The home side got onto the scoreboard through Chris Taylor, who took advantage of the numbers on the overlap after Matthew Bailey was penalised for a high tackle close to the line.

And the Cumbrian outfit drew level when Dion Aiye broke the line and offloaded to Jake Moore, who just managed to evade the interests of Lynam to touch down.

The half ended on a sour note, however, for Whitehaven as Jordan Thompson was carried from the field on a stretcher during the half-time interval.

Keighley came close to retaking the lead in the second half when Luke Million was held up over the line.

But Craig Lingard’s side retook the lead when great work by Will Cooke created space in the corner for Davey Dixon to score.

However, the home side drew level once more through Andrew Bulman, who scored with a spectacular diving effort.

Whitehaven then took the lead for the first time of the afternoon when Moore sidestepped his way round an attempted tackle to fall over the line next to the sticks.

The Cougars then suffered a body blow as captain Hardcastle was carried injured from the field with 17 minutes left on the clock.

And the hosts sealed the two points as Jason Mossop broke at the line with a show and go before sending Bulman racing 40 metres to the line.

The game ended with Moore taking the two points on offer for a flailing arm that brought with a bit of 'biff' that saw both Kris Coward and James Feather sent to the sin-bin with two minutes remaining on the clock.

So the dawn of a new era at Cougars ended in defeat that leaves Keighley still on minus 12 due to their points deduction - but with much cause for optimism after a battling display.