This weekend sees North Wales Crusaders travel to Keighley Cougars for what proves to be a tough Challenge Cup fourth round clash. The Cougars are a familiar opponent for Crusaders having been promoted in 2022 after an unbeaten season.
Since being promoted, Keighley have had a mixed start to life in the second tier. The Cougars started the season with a 50-0 home loss to a heavily fancied Featherstone Rovers followed up by a 26-18 away loss to Widnes.
The next 4 games saw mixed fortunes as they lost twice on the road to fellow Yorkshire sides Batley and Halifax but made up for this by winning both home games against London and Newcastle.
Last weekend saw the highlight of Keighleys season so far with a huge 34-6 win against local rivals Bradford Bulls. This marked the first time Keighley had beaten Bradford in almost fifty years, with the previous victory being a 3-2 win way back in 1975.
Crusaders have endured a tough start to the season with the first 3 games away from Eirias Park against 3 of the top sides in the division. Despite not getting the first win on the board, these games showed many promising signs and North Wales were unlucky to not get a result against either Hunslet or Doncaster. The first win of the season was recorded against Thatto Heath in the third round of the cup.
Last weekend saw a disappointing return to Colwyn Bay with Crusaders going down 18-4 to Oldham. Whilst some poor refereeing decisions did not help the cause, North Wales were disappointed with the performance and will be looking to right some wrongs against Keighley this week, but no doubt with an eye on getting the first win of the league season on Good Friday away at Workington.
With the ever growing injury toll and the dual registration signings not available, North Wales will have to make a number of changes to the team this weekend with Rob Massam added to the injury list after suffering a hip injury. Massam did however reach a massive milestone against Oldham scoring his 200th career try.
Head Coach Carl Forster said about the Oldham game: “I can't fault our effort, I just think we are putting ourselves in really tough situations both with and without the ball and I think there's 5 or 6 tries gone begging in the game, similar to the Doncaster game.
“I thought Doncaster prevailed due to their scramble defence however this weekend it was our skill level. I keep harping on to the lads about the repeated dropped balls but we are not going to be the kind of team that just plays 5 drives and a kick rugby. I want to play expansive rugby and I want to entertain as that is the way I believe rugby league should be played.
“We've still got a long way to go to get to where I want the team to be but I thought that was 2 points dropped at the weekend. I was very disappointed after the game and still am to be honest”
Talking about this weekend's game against Keighley and the injuries, Forster said: “We've actually got about 15 unavailable players if we include the 4 regular dual reg lads we have along with Josh Lynch on loan from Warrington. At the weekend we will be lucky to field a 17 in the correct positions but I will say to the lads that this week is a free hit.
“We want to see full commitment from the lads but I won't be asking for champagne rugby league this weekend. We will be a bit more conservative but will play with pride and effort and hopefully give the fans something to cheer about this weekend.”