Media Watch – Keighley Cougars
June 11, 2022
Cornwall welcome table topping Keighley Cougars to the Memorial Ground tomorrow (Sunday) as Betfred League 1 moves past its mid-way point.
The round 11 clash kicks-off at 1.00pm and sees the Cougars put their 100 per cent record on their line while Cornwall are still searching for a maiden professional win.
Last time out, there was contrasting fortunes for both sides with the Choughs narrowly edged out 24-20 by London Skolars here in the Duchy.
Some 380 miles away in Colwyn Bay, the Cougars demolished nearest title rivals North Wales Crusaders 56-12 with the visitors running in 11 tries.
Aaron Levy led the way with a fine treble while veteran centre Jake Webster bagged a brace in a performance that rubber-stamped for many why Keighley are Championship bound for 2023.
In the build-up to their first ever match against Cornwall, Cougars’ head of media Josh Chapman has been talking to cornwallrlfc.co.uk about everything from the ‘Hendo effect’ to Cougarmania.
CW: With a perfect 100 per cent record this season, would it be fair to say that 2022, so far, couldn’t have gone any better for the Cougars?
JC: Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming!
It’s been a beyond belief start to the season and the atmosphere not just around the club, but the town of Keighley as a whole, is absolutely buzzing to say the least.
As a club, we’ve had lots of setbacks and heartbreak, and as a town, we’ve suffered through austerity.
What this group of players and staff are doing right now is revitalising Keighley, it is giving us something to enjoy again, something that we can believe in and take forward together as our own little piece of happiness.
There’s a phrase that what we are experiencing right now is called the “Hendo Effect” but whilst Andrew (Henderson, director of rugby) is a key piece of the puzzle, he’s the latest piece of the puzzle that Rhys Lovegrove (head coach) has slowly been building on and off the pitch over the past three years.
The aim though is to keep our feet on the ground, continue to improve and get better as players, staff, and human beings away from Rugby League, and make sure we don’t let the standards we have set slip.
It is going to be another tough test this week with a different set of challenges, but it is important that we focus on ourselves and prepare to meet what Cornwall will throw at us come 1pm on Sunday.
CW: Did the play-off defeat to Doncaster last year galvanise the club into wanting to right those wrongs of 2021?
JC: What happened in the play-offs last season hurt, and it hurt deep.
To lose both those games against Workington and Doncaster at the death like that was heartbreaking.
But in a weird sort of way, it feels like the best thing that could have happened to us.
Workington’s struggles in the Championship have shown that whoever won the play-offs was on a hiding to nothing due to being a month behind the eight ball in terms of recruitment and preparation.
It has allowed Andrew and Rhys to recruit the right sort of players and characters for what they are building here.
When you add a quality player such as Lewis Young or Dane Chisholm to another quality player such as Jack Miller or Jake Webster, then you’re only going to get better.
We have our goals and targets, we’re continuously working towards them, and hopefully come September we will have achieved them.
And as I’ve already alluded to, what is happening this year at Cougar Park feels special and is galvanizing the club and town.
There will never be another Cougarmania, but I feel we’re getting ever closer week-by-week to a modern-day version.
CW: The win against North Wales was a huge statement of intent. So is the challenge now to keep that momentum going and not feel like promotion is done and dusted already?
JC: We take each game as it comes.
This might sound like a bit of a cliché, but that is our attitude as a club. No match is as important as the next and we’ll only think about promotion once it is confirmed.
The momentum we’ve generated so far this season has been fantastic, and it is safe to say nobody would have thought it was possible to go 9 wins from 9. Even more so in a division as competitive as League 1.
Anyone who watches the club’s weekly interviews with Rhys Lovegrove will know we’re a very process and system driven environment.
The win against North Wales was an example of what happens when we execute those processes and systems, it was a good performance and one that the boys worked hard for.
There’s still a long way to go this season, we’re only at the halfway stage and there’s still a lot of Rugby League to be played between now and September.
CW: The signings of Eddy Pettybourne and Junior Sa’u have raised eyebrows in League 1. A clear barometer of Keighley’s ambition?
The signings of Eddy and Junior are a barometer of our ambition, but also a sign of where we are at now as a club.
Since the O’Neill family returned in 2019, the goal has been to build the club back up and make it a sustainable but competitive Championship club in a similar vein to what you can see at clubs such as Batley.
We’ve worked hard to change the culture of the club, and that began with the appointment of Rhys Lovegrove as head coach.
From there, we set our goals and targets and began a recruitment drive to add players such as Jake Webster, Scott Murrell, and Brenden Santi, who will take us to that next level whilst also helping to guide and develop talented youngsters such as Charlie Graham and Aaron Levy.
And after the near miss of last season, the arrival of Andrew Henderson has really driven us forward both on and off the pitch.
What people are seeing now is the results of what Hendo and Lovey have instilled into the players and staff, the signings of Eddy and Junior are a testament to that but will also continue to push the club and team forward.
CW: And finally, a word on Cornwall. What have you made of the Choughs so far in their debut professional season?
JC: Cornwall are getting better each time they take to the field, and that is only a good thing not just for the club, but the sport as a whole.
For rugby league to survive and thrive, we need to engage new audiences and players, and keep them within the sport and I believe Cornwall is a great way of doing that.
The crowds have been fantastic and whilst you have not won a game as yet, you’re getting closer and, on another day, last time out would have turned the London Skolars over.
We’re starting to slowly see the first signs of progress from the hard work being done in the Duchy and as the seasons and club progresses, then I believe Cornwall will be a competitive side.
There are talented players such as Harry Aaronson, who I know well from his two years with us at Keighley, who can take the step to that next level, and Adam Rusling, who has impressed me since joining on loan from Hull Kingston Rovers.
The recent recruitment of experienced individuals such as Aaron Jones-Bishop will also help bring on those who are new to the sport within the team and give a different voice in the dressing room.
This will be a tough test for the Cougars and I know the boys are prepared for it. I look forward to seeing what transpires once we cross the white line.
Follow Josh on Twitter: @JRCSport