Whitehaven 28 Keighley Cougars 14

Whitehaven maintained their League One play-off challenge by completing a good double over Keighley Cougars.

The win there earlier in the campaign had been one of the season’s highlights and, although it was another valuable win, the quality had been lacking.

The first half in particular was extremely scrappy with both teams poor on completion rates, but Haven were much better in the second period and scored three good tries.

Whitehaven had the first opportunity to put points on the board on two minutes when Keighley were penalised for a high tackle and Jordan Burns obliged from 20 metres.

A second penalty gained them ground but, early in the set, Kris Coward lost the ball in a tackle and Keighley had possession for the first time.

They were unable to prosper and, when it was their turn, Whitehaven looked much sharper but unfortunately Danny Green couldn’t catch a long pass from Dion Aiye.

When a ball went loose 20 metres from the Haven line, Burns scooped up and raced 70 yards for what he thought was the opening try. But the touch judge was on to indicate there had been some pulling back and Keighley were awarded a penalty.

Almost immediately there was a possible 70-yarder for Keighley from Adam Ryder after Callum Phillips dropped a pass, but Chris Taylor and Aiye got back and eventually brought down the centre.

The Cougars almost got in but were held up and, when they tried a kick on the last tackle, Whitehaven gathered to clear their lines.

There was another chance for Haven when they put themselves into a good position but both Jesse Joe Parker and Ellis Gillam juggled with the ball but couldn’t find the composure to open up the Cougars defence.

Then it was Keighley’s turn to threaten. Nathan Conroy was held up and Brad Nicholson was only inches from getting over.

The only surprise was that, after half-an-hour, only two points separated the two sides.

But that changed on 31 minutes when Keighley drew level. Benn Hardcastle put over a 25-metre penalty after Haven had been caught offside.

The completion rates of both sides were poor and the ball was being dropped in the most innocuous of situations.

But the game’s best move from Whitehaven brought the opening try on 39 minutes.

James Tilley had been stopped under the crossbar and, when the ball was switched left, Parker dummied before stepping through to score.

As the half-time hooter sounded, Burns’ conversion flew through the sticks for an 8-2 advantage at the break.

When play resumed, Burns caught the restart kick but dropped the ball in the tackle that followed his clearing run.

It put Keighley on the front foot and Whitehaven had to concede a drop-out when Parker got back to knock dead a kick through.

Mistakes continued to dog both sides, however, and there was very little in the way of flowing rugby.

But when Haven did get it together, they scored again. On the sixth tackle, the ball was moved left and a fine cut-out pass from Stuart Howarth saw Dave Thompson stride over unopposed. Burns converted.

Theey should have scored again a couple of minutes later, too.

Darren Abram picked up a loose ball 20 metres from his own line and tried to go all the way but was tackled a few yards short by the chasing Harry Aaronson. From the play-the-ball, Thompson seemed to have a simple task in diving over but lost possession.

It could have proved costly because, when Keighley came back, a spell of pressure was rewarded with Hardcastle stepping cleverly through the home defence for a well-taken try, which he converted.

Haven responded strongly, for when Keighley were penned back Aiye and Lewis Cooper did really well to push Cameron Leeming back over his line to force a drop-out.

On 59 minutes, Aiye was pole-axed by Danny Parker and after a lengthy delay, the Haven man was able to climb to his feet. As he walked slowly to the dressing room, Parker made an equally painful walk off the field after being shown a red card.

As a consequence, Burns took the opportunity to extend the Haven lead with the resultant penalty.

After surviving some strong Keighley pressure, Whitehaven came back and, on 66 minutes, scored a fine try. Burns made the initial break and it was finished off in style by Taylor on a diagonal run to the posts. Burns converted.

That was followed by another great try for the hosts.

Thompson broke from 80 yards, shrugged off an Aaronson tackle and had enough momentum to make the line. Burns converted.

It had been a lot better from Haven in the second half, although Keighley were still game and battled hard for another score on 78 minutes. It was virtually a repeat, too, as Hardcastle dummied and weaved his way through to touchdown. He landed the conversion.

They could have even scored again but the final pass out wide hit a Whitehaven hand and Cougars were given a scrum ten metres out. Despite good pressure they couldn’t get over again.

Match facts

WHITEHAVEN: Burns, Green, Taylor, Parker, Thompson, Howarth, Phillips, Shackley, Eaves, Coward, Aiye, Gillam, Forster. Subs: Abram, Cooper, Mossop, Tilley.

Tries: Thompson (2), Parker, Taylor. Goals: Burns 6/6

KEIGHLEY: Aaronson, Dixon, Whiteley, Ryder, Leeming, Parker, Hardcastle, Griffin, Wright, Bailey. Rawlins, Nicholson, Emmett. Subs; Law, Conroy, O’Sullivan, Hallas.

Tries: Hardcastle (2). Goals: Hardcastle 3/3

Referee: Nick Bennett

Crowd: 592

Penalties: 10-5

Half-time: 8-2

Star Man: Dave Thompson