KEIGHLEY Cougars head coach Rhys Lovegrove says his side were “always going to start from scratch” in 2020, and he is looking forward to showcasing some new players and tactics in their opening pre-season friendly with Dewsbury Rams on Sunday.

They host the Championship side having made nine signings in pre-season, while maintaining several wise old heads, including evergreen hooker James Feather.

Lovegrove admitted he had targeted a friendly against Dewsbury, not only because of their style of rugby, but also to avoid giving their League One promotion rivals a “practice shot” at them.

Discussing the coming season as a whole, Lovegrove said: “I came in halfway through last season (to replace Craig Lingard) so I just had to reinforce what the team knew. There was no chance for me to implement a new style of play.

“We were always going to start from scratch this pre-season, so new players coming in has had no effect in that sense.

“Whether it was existing or new players, they all needed to learn new material and so far, the people that I’ve brought in have shown me the skill sets that I wanted.”

Despite the raft of new players, there are plenty of old heads for the head coach to rely on, including Feather, who has been at the club since 2003.

Asked about his continuing impact on and off the pitch, Lovegrove said: “James has been really good. He had a big role last year, playing plenty of matches.

“He’s a real leader, and has carried that on in pre-season. He has been great on both sides of the fence for me.

“There’s two or three others like him expecting to go into coaching too, so I involve them all in that side of the game in training.

“I enjoy that they’re able to help out, and it just gives me fresh views on things.”

It sounds like Keighley are well prepared ahead of the game at Cougar Park this weekend, one Lovegrove is looking forward to.

He said: “I really wanted us to have this friendly. They’ve got good quality, but they’re also fair, Dewsbury.

“They’re not a grubby side who are trying to knock your head off, they just play a nice brand of rugby.

“I know Lee (Greenwood, Dewsbury’s head coach) well and he’s got a lot of ambitions for the club.

“It’s a great test for us, and we want to test ourselves against the best. We also didn’t want to give others in League One a practice shot at us.”

Lovegrove added: “Everyone will get minutes on Sunday. I’ll bring the whole squad to get a look at each of them before League One starts. It’s a reward for their hard work in pre-season too.

“I’ll look to play two distinct teams, one in the first half and one in the second.

“That gives the players time to get a feel for the rhythm of the game and get a foot in the door, rather than me just chopping and changing throughout.”