COUGARS head coach Craig Lingard says learning about his new-look squad takes priority over pre-season results.

His side are preparing for another tough fixture as they head to relegated Oldham on Sunday on the back of defeats to Championship opponents Batley and Barrow.

Their new League One opponents play on a 4G pitch, having returned to their former base at Whitebank Road in the town after two seasons in Stalybridge.

And difficult games against Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls follow for Cougars before the campaign starts for real at home to Workington Town on February 18.

Lingard said: "We're learning about people as we progress through these pre-season friendlies.

"For me, it’s important to remember that last year our pre-season went really well and then our season was a bit hit and miss. You don’t win leagues in pre-season friendlies.

"Look at Whitehaven last year. They lost every pre-season game quite comfortably and they ended up finishing second in the league.

"We're using this pre-season to try different combinations and to try different patterns which we are working on in training, so it is a learning curve."

Scott Naylor's Oldham have beaten Rochdale and narrowly lost to Barrow on the road, with Cougars' trip representing their first match on their new state-of-the-art pitch at the revamped Vestacare Stadium.

Lingard said: "It will be an advantage for Oldham during the season because not many other teams will play on a 4G pitch. Sunday's match is something we’ll look to learn from for when we play them in the league."

Cougars were well beaten by Batley last Sunday in a 28-0 home defeat in tough weather conditions.

After demanding an improvement in their goal-line defence following their first outing at Barrow, Lingard had a mixed view on how it shaped up.

He said: "Jimmy Davey scooted over from dummy half, which was very poor on our behalf, but we defended a lot of repeat sets on our line."

It was the first time his new half-back pairing of Matty Beharrell and Benn Hardcastle played together but Lingard admitted a judgement on how they fared was unfair considering the conditions.

He said: "We tried to play a bit, maybe a little bit too much and we need to be a bit smarter at times but I am sure once the ground firms up and the weather improves, we'll see the combinations in those two.

"But we are going to have play in these conditions at the start of the season, so we need to get a grip of them."

Prop Trae O'Sullivan is likely to be out for around a fortnight with concussion sustained in the Batley game.

Brendon Rawlins was rated 50-50 earlier in the week as he recovers from a finger injury, while Sunday's match could come too soon for fellow prop Samir Tahraoui following surgery in the off-season. However, the new signing is in full-contact training and should make the Leeds game on February 4.

Lingard will also check on Aidan Scully (back), who has yet to feature as his wife has just given birth.

* Brendon Rawlins is preparing for his testimonial match against Super League champions Leeds Rhinos at Cougar Park on Sunday, February 4 (3pm).

The Rhinos have promised to send some of their first team squad and some rising stars.

Admission is £10, or £5 for concessions, with under-11s free.