KEIGHLEY Cougars half-back Jack Miller was named League 1 Player of the Year last season after captaining his side to the title.

But he was merely a spectator on Monday night at Cougar Park, dropped from the 18-man squad as Keighley crashed to a 50-0 home defeat against title favourites Featherstone Rovers in their first game in the Betfred Championship since 2014.

Miller’s omission upset and angered some fans, but Cougars head coach Rhys Lovegrove was happy to open up about the huge selection call.

The Australian told the Keighley News: “Jack’s just got to fight for his spot.

“I called that decision based on what I saw in pre-season and it was a shame for players like Jack that we lost that game against Castleford to the weather.

“That was a missed opportunity for him to stake his claim for a starting berth.

“As I said, I try and call it as I see it, and based on that, I chose Luke (Gale) and Dane (Chisholm) to start in the halves against Featherstone.”

Lovegrove insists Miller is still in his thoughts, adding: “It’s too early in the season to think about sending Jack out on loan.

“Everyone in the squad is going to play their part for us this year, and we’ll have ongoing discussions with players throughout the season to see what we’re thinking is best for them.

“I want to incentivise the players to control the development of their own game, and I’ll try and help them with that as head coach.

“Ultimately, we want as many members of this team as possible playing regular rugby league, and hopefully that’s with us at Keighley.”

Cougars were always big underdogs against Featherstone, and their league game at Widnes Vikings this Sunday should be a much closer affair.

But Lovegrove warned: “They’re a very established Championship side.

“All those teams deserve to be in this division and there’s a lot of them, like Widnes, who’ve not been relegated or promoted for a while.

“Like against Featherstone, we know we’ll be facing what I call first grade rugby against them.

“We’ve got to make that progress from League 1 rugby, Featherstone showed us that.

“There were small details that we’d get away with in the third tier, whereas Featherstone punished those errors on Monday.”

Lovegrove is coming up against a veteran of Championship rugby league on Sunday too in the Widnes dugout.

He said: “John Kear is an advocate of direct rugby, and he’s got a half-back in Tom Gilmore who can pull the strings.

“They have good outside backs in their side too and it’s going to be a challenge for us.

“We’re looking forward to it though, and hopefully we can turn things round from the Featherstone game.”

Lovegrove hopes to have Mark Ioane (virus) back for Widnes, but the knee injury Kyle Trout picked up early on on Monday night will need assessing.

Tom Doyle will serve the final game of his suspension on Sunday, with Cougars hoping to have both him and the injured Brad Walker in contention to face Newcastle Thunder at Cougar Park on Sunday, February 19.

Lloyd Roby and Alix Stephenson are still a few weeks away from full fitness.