A DERBY at Bradford Salem on Saturday is the first course of what will be a challenging month for Keighley.

The other Yorkshire Division One fixtures in January for eighth-placed Keighley are home games against Old Brodleians (January 13), who are currently fifth, and Beverley (January 27), currently fourth, with another derby at Heath, who are third at the moment, on January 20.

"It will be an interesting one on Saturday," said former Salem skipper James Cunliffe, who is now player-coach at Keighley.

The Rose Cottage club beat Salem 46-3 earlier this season on their second-team pitch, and Cunliffe added: "Salem will probably still be bitter about that.

"The early sin-binning of Andy Robinson was a key factor, and they also conceded an interception try and a breakaway try in a match that was closer than the score suggests.

"The personal battles between Christian Baines (Salem) and Rob Baldwin (Keighley) and Dan Snowden (Keighley) and Conor Wood (Salem) were interesting, but of course Rob is no longer with us, having returned to Wharfedale, which was a bit of a shock.

"However, Leigh Sugden has stepped up magnificently, but Dan is not available this weekend.

"Also Christian is close to returning for Salem after his ankle injury."

The Bradford club are 11th, eight points adrift of Keighley, and Cunliffe added: "You never know how teams are going to shape up in the first game of the new year.

"We have had one training session prior to this week and a game of sevens last Saturday that included many players who aren't in the first-team squad."

As for Keighley's season so far, Cunliffe said: "It has been mixed.

"We had been preparing all pre-season to play on our artificial grass pitch and didn't play on it until November, but there were definitely signs in the Selby match before Christmas that we are coming to terms with it, such as the way that the ball bounces etc, plus we are also getting fitter.

"Also having Sean Kelly in midfield defence with Adam Horsfall has meant that Alfie Seeley and Joe Copperwaite can attack more.

"Jake Duxbury is getting fitter and more confident (after an anterior cruciate ligament injury) with every game.

"As for results, matches that we were winning by two or three points last season we have lost by two or three points, but I am confident that we will finish comfortably in mid-table."