Coach Keith Dixon is hoping a team spirit that reminds him of the heady Cougarmania days can help Keighley ARLFC reach their first ever BARLA Yorkshire Cup final on Saturday.
His side have overcome the odds to earn a last-four clash at Sharlston Rovers, beating holders Hunslet Old Boys and Pennine League reigning champions Drighlington, as well as Skirlaugh Bulls.
Team spirit has been a key component of their progress and led Dixon to compare the sense of togetherness with the triumphant Cougars outfit he was part of in 1995 that won the old Division Two title and also enjoyed cup success.
The former stand-off and fullback, who is Cougars’ joint-third highest ever point-scorer, said: “It reminds me of when I played with Cougars and we won the Division Two Premiership Cup final at Old Trafford against Huddersfield in ’95.
“Everyone is together – if there is a night out, then the whole team is out. This bunch reminds me of the spirit we had back then.”
Dixon is delighted with the way his players have gelled in only their second season after Keighley Albion and Keighley Town merged and Keighley Cougar Cubs became part of the junior set-up.
He said: “In our first season, the majority of the team were made up of Albion players but this year it is split down the middle with Albion, Town and Cougar Cubs.”
Dixon cited former Cubs scrum half Ricky Leatham as an example of how players have relished being part of a thriving dressing room. He said: “Ricky was thinking about packing in but has just had a new lease of life. The lads are really playing as a unit.”
Sharlston Rovers, who have won five of their six Pennine Premier League games so far this season, will provide a formidable test. Since 2001-02, they have reached five Yorkshire Cup finals and won three of them, while they also won the 2010/11 BARLA National Cup.
Dixon, who has got as far as the quarter-finals with Keighley Albion, knows it will be tough but insists there is no reason why his side cannot pull off another upset.
He said: “We were hoping for a home draw as we have a big, full-sized pitch and our fitness does tell. But if we turn up with the right attitude, like we did at Drighlington, then we’ve got to be regarded as a bit of a force. We’ve already done it the hard way, having beaten the holders Hunslet and then won at Skirlaugh and Drighlington.”
Sensing his side’s desire to go even further in the competition, Dixon added: “After beating Drighlington in the last round, the lads were on a high but they didn’t take it too far. Talking to them individually, they have the belief that, no matter who they play, they are feeling confident.”
Keighley’s Championship title rivals West Bowling host Nevison Leap in the other semi-final and Dixon admits he would love to see the neighbours clash in the final.
He said: “It would be nice to have a Bradford district final. We’ve beaten Bowling once this season already but that was a totally different team to what they have now by all accounts.”
Keighley should have a full squad to choose from as Cougars squad members Danny Snowden and Josh Lynam have been cleared to play and hooker Danny Barrett is expected to recover from an elbow injury.