By James Smith
Five games into the 2017 Kingstone Press League One season sees Keighley Cougars in fourth place with three wins and two defeats.
The reformation of the Rugby Football League (RFL) combined with the controversial decision by the governing body to go back on their decision to deduct the Batley Bulldogs points for fielding an ineligible player saw Cougars relegated to the third division after only two years back in the Championship.
Relative success occurred in the 2015 season as Cougars reached the League One play-off final at the first time of asking, only for a heart-breaking 29-28 defeat ensuring a second season in the third tier. This, in addition to the passing of popular Welsh international, Danny Jones made for a disappointing season on and off the field for the West Yorkshire side.
The 2016 season resulted in step backwards as Cougars lumbered to a mid-table finish after a season of mediocrity, despite winning the iPro Sport Cup at Bloomfield Road in May. League form resulted in Head Coach Paul March losing his job, and he was replaced by current manager Craig Lingard.
There is an air of optimism going around the club and the town this season. Average attendances have almost doubled, and while performances remain suspect, results are improving.
Good Friday’s 20-12 win over Hunslet Hawks prompted Lingard to say: ‘’It’s exactly what we said to the lads in the sheds’’, when discussing the importance of results over performances, with the Cougars having played better and lost.
However, Cougars have a mountain to climb having lost two of their first five. Promotion favourites Toronto Wolfpack along with a talented Barrow Raiders side lead the way, both with 100% records. Coincidentally, the two defeats suffered by Cougars came to the aforementioned sides sitting pretty at the top.
There is some consolation to that stat, but on the flip side, it suggests there is a gulf in class between the good sides and the great sides in the division.
With a plethora of ins and outs at the club, the squad are still gelling and getting to know each other, the tools are there, it’s just piecing everything together as the squad is young and hungry, with an ambitious manager.
The hope is that the club can sustain a play-off challenge, maybe even go up. One thing is for sure, the good times could very well return soon.