WHEN you are defending an unbeaten record stretching back over four years it is not surprising that you are tipped to win a home game against anyone in your division.

However, what turned heads at Rose Cottage was the margin of Keighley’s 40-12 victory over Counties One Yorkshire leaders Wetherby.

In truth, the visitors, who were missing the influential leadership trio of hooker Steve Hoather, No 8 George Gilbert and lock Harry Johnson, were rarely at the races and were honest enough to admit afterwards that even with that threesome they would have lost.

Keighley have now replaced Wetherby at the top of the table, going three points clear (44 against 41), while a very good day was made even better by second-placed West Leeds (39) losing 6-0 at Pocklington, Bradford Salem climbing to within a point of West Leeds with a walkover victory over Beverley, who could not raise a front row and then later forfeited the match.

Keighley’s head coach Danny McGee admitted: “The first 10 minutes were very important, and we said before the game that we needed to set our stall out in that period and begin well, and we did.

“We put the pressure on them and got the points, and that for me set the scene, but we know that Wetherby are always dangerous and have the players to turn a game and score points.

“Therefore, remaining focused and sharp and making sure that we didn’t switch off was really important even if we did put the points on.

“It was a really good professional performance. We kept our heads when they didn’t and stuck to our game-plan. It was feisty at times, but you would expect that of a top-of-the-table clash.

“It was one of our best performances of the season because of the occasion, the conditions, the team that we were playing, and we put in an 80-minute performance.”

As for place-kicker Jack Atkinson, McGee said: “Jack took up the mantle again from Alex Brown due to that tight hamstring and, after that early miss, Jack put some good kicks in in difficult conditions.

“But it was a 1-18 performance and we know that we can put players on who are as good as the ones who have started and they can change the game for the better.

“We scored some opportunist tries, but also scored some good team tries. However, this win will be pointless if we don’t win next week at Leodiensians.”

In difficult conditions of rain and wind, Wetherby had an awful opening 10 minutes, and also lost skipper Myles Oates with a dislocated shoulder after six minutes.

Keighley were definitely more up for the fight initially and went ahead with an Atkinson penalty, increasing the margin to 8-0 when Wetherby lost possession on their 10-metre line, with the ball being moved wide by centre Adam Horsfall to right winger Allan Ebbrell, who outpaced the cover to score and dot down beneath the posts.

Atkinson landed the conversion via the far upright to take the score to 10-0, although place kicks were more difficult than normal as the wind meant that Ebbrell had to hold the ball on the tee until Atkinson’s struck it.

Atkinson then dropped the ball in defence, although the error wasn’t costly as Wetherby were ruled offside and were then marched back 10 metres for dissent by referee Mark Smith (Central Yorkshire Society).

Wetherby’s first attack of note came from a break down the middle by lock Henry Acland, who held onto the ball when he should have passed, leading to a Keighley penalty and causing howls of anguish from the visiting bench at Acland’s poor decision.

A Brown 50-22 came to nothing, but Wetherby then had winger Jack Kaye sin-binned for punching in an off-the-ball melee, Atkinson then extending Keighley’s lead to 13-0 with a penalty from in front of the posts.

Atkinson then knocked on from a Brown pass and, despite good defence following the scrum, Wetherby scored via flanker Jake Little on 26 minutes, full back Charlie Yates missing the conversion after making the strange decision to take the ball a long way back and then seeing his effort into the wind die by the side of the posts.

There was an amusing sideline to the next meaningful Keighley attack as Horsfall inadvertently headed the ball after it slipped through his fingers, meaning play on.

Prop Sam Booker went close near the sticks a few phases later before Brown danced his way over to the left of the posts to make it 18-5 after 30 minutes, Atkinson adding an excellent conversion on the angle.

Flanker Ollie Snowden then scored Keighley’s third try after a poor pass in midfield was kicked ahead by the scorer, with the ball hitting the legs of a Wetherby defender, slowing it down nicely for Snowden to hack ahead and gather just before the line to dive over.

Atkinson missed the tough kick, but Keighley then had to survive some sustained Wetherby pressure, being held up over the Keighley line and then making nothing from a five-metre scrum due to a knock-on.

There was then a fracas behind play near the Keighley end before centre Alfie Seeley made a baffling decision to continue on a diagonal angle left when a straighter run could have resulted in him getting a try.

However, the ball was recycled and Horsfall put Snowden over on the right to make it 30-5 and give Keighley the four-try bonus point, Atkinson’s conversion attempt hitting the far upright and coming out.

The most contentious decision of the afternoon by referee Smith came when Seeley was ‘clothes lined’ in first-half injury time by replacement Frazer Land, the prop, who had only been on the pitch for just over a minute, being shown a yellow card rather than a red.

In the melee that followed, Keighley skipper and No 8 Tom Whyte was sin-binned for retaliation, meaning that both sides started the second half a man light.

Wetherby then lost winger Mo Beeson with a pulled hamstring in the 51st minute, meaning that No 8 James Ward had to play on the right wing.

Keighley replacement Jake Parkinson made an immediate impact with a strong run down the middle, but it ended with him suffering an ankle injury that led to him being carried off, with Parkinson being on the pitch slightly longer than Land’s initial effort.

Wetherby then seemed to have several differences of opinion with the referee that resulted in lengthy chats between players and whistler, Booker going over in the 65th minute after loitering on the wing.

Although Wetherby still had their moments, with hooker Evan Woodworth scoring in the 72nd minute and Yates converting off the far upright, the scoring was finished off three minutes later with Snowden’s hat-trick try after Brown had charged down a kick with his midriff.

By now the rain was icy and, despite another Brown 50-22, there were no more chances.