Leon Pryce will have to wait to celebrate a first competitive victory as a head coach despite Workington Town launching a brave fightback in the second half of a tough season opener in West Yorkshire as they lost 44-34.

The former Bradford, St Helens, Hull and Catalans Super League star’s interval talk left his side in no doubts that their first-half display had been unacceptable and the response was hugely encouraging as the Cumbrians cut a 14-point deficit to just two before the hosts edged away again to seal their success.

Workington made the trip across the Pennines without Scott Rooke, although relieved at the progress he has made since being seriously injured in the Ike Southward Memorial Trophy at Whitehaven two weeks beforehand, and minus Elliott Miller, sent off during that feisty clash at the Recre, serving the first of a two-match suspension.

A late decision to leave playmaker Jamie Doran out of Town’s final 17, following what Pryce descibed as “a couple of in-house problems”, meant that Scott Leatherbarrow, who played 23 games for Keighley back in 2013, partnered stalwart Carl Forber in the halves while recent signings Sean Penkywicz and James Newton shared the hooking duties.

It was a clash of two clubs who almost certainly disappointed themselves in finishing seventh and eighth at the end of the regular season and the Super 8s last year but each of whom have high hopes for this season.

Pryce’s new-look Town opened confidently and gained the best possible start when, with barely 90 seconds on the clock, full-back Jamie Foster stepped into the line to make the extra man and allow Gordon Maudling to cross near the right-hand corner.

The lead lasted less than five minutes as the Cougars responded, creating their own overlap with Hamish Barnes putting Harry Aaronson over in the corner.

Former Newcastle goal-machine Benn Hardcastle succeeded where Carl Forber had failed in landing the touchline conversion en-route to a 20-point personal haul which included eight goals from eight attempts.

Town were quickly under more pressure when Foster fumbled a high Hardcastle bomb and Matthew Bailey darted on to a short Matty Beharrell pass to extend the Cougars advantage to 12-4.

Stevie Scholey dropped a pass but it went backwards for Forber to pick up and scoot over as Foster assumed the kicking duties to add an easy two points and cut the deficit.

Josh Lynam then reached out of an inconclusive tackle to score for Cougars but a Leatherbarrow kick was deflected in the path of Kurt Maudling, who scuttled under the posts, Foster having the easiest of tasks to bring the visitors back to within two points of their hosts again.

But a Matty Beharrell try was followed by a heartbreaking 70-metre Andy Gabriel interception on the stroke of half-time when a hopeful long pass just failed to make his opposite number Joe Hambley, which seemed likely to kill off Town’s hopes.

But coach Pryce’s "verbal encouragement" during the break sparked the necessary reaction and tries from Hambley, in the right-hand corner, and a second from Gordon Maudling, determinedly batting away two attempted tackles before going over, brought the deficit back to two points once more and the comeback was on.

Gordon Maudling was stopped half a yard short of his hat-trick shortly after Gabriel had knocked on deep in his own half.

But Keighley weathered the storm with Aaronson held just short before Hardcastle cut diagonally through a rapidly regrouping defence, then converted and added a penalty, to help the Cougars extend their lead to eight points with 12 minutes remaining.

Still Town were not finished and Penkywicz generated renewed hope when dummying his way over with five minutes to play.

Yet, as the men in blue and white strained for a late winner, throwing the ball wide and cheered forward by two coachloads of fans from Cumbria, Gabriel again accepted a miscued Forber pass to run in unopposed and seal the league points.

Match Facts

Keighley: Hawkyard, Aaronson, Barnes, Ryder, Gabriel, Hardcastle, Beharrell, Tahraoui, Conroy, Bailey, Lynam, Rawlins, Emmett

Subs: Law, Wright, Hallas, Nicholson

Tries: Aaaronson (6), Bailey (9), Lynam (24), Beharrell (36), Gabriel (40, 80), Hardcastle (68)

Goals: Hardcastle (8/8)

Workington: Foster, Hambley, Akehurst, Singleton, Forrester, Leatherbarrow, Forber, Wilkes, Penkywicz, Scholey, G Maudling, K Maudling, Bailey

Subs: Newton, Dawson, Ryan, Barnes

Tries: Tries: G Maudling (2), Forber (17), K Maudling (30, 52), Hambley (46), Penkywicz (75)

Goals: Forber (0/1), Foster (5/5)

Penalties: 7-6

Crowd: 707

Referee: Marcus Griffiths (Warrington)

Star Man: Gordon Maudling