A good start to the new year for Counties One Yorkshire leaders Keighley brought then a bonus-point victory at home to Old Rishworthian.

However, they had to work much harder than many expected to overcome their spirited visitors, eventually claiming a 33-29 win in what was a gripping encounter at Rose Cottage.

Both teams started crisply, intent on playing open rugby, but it soon became apparent that the home team had the upper hand, dominating nearly all phases of play, especially at the scrum.

With a more than adequate supply of possession, Keighley camped themselves in opposition territory and eventually, from a five-metre scrum that was in retreat, lively scrum-half Nathan Pickles took advantage to score wide out.

Keighley News: Nathan Pickles stretches out to score and put Keighley in front on Saturday.Nathan Pickles stretches out to score and put Keighley in front on Saturday. (Image: John Ashton.)

Although Keighley dominated possession, they often chose the kicking option, but unfortunately for them the Rishworthian full back Rangi Kui was in fine form, and more than able to make ground with long kicks or some lovely elusive runs.

Rishworthian, with half backs Luke Sutcliffe and Doug Heseltine making the most of scant possession, began to play with more confidence.

Their defence was quick and strong and more than able to stop a series of lacklustre Keighley attacks at source.

Keighley began to reassert the pressure and took play deep into the Rishworthian half, moving play down the left of the field and looking like scoring.

Unfortunately for the hosts, it was not to be, and instead the ball fell into the hands of strong Rishworthian centre Chris Robinson, who shrugged off a number of weak tackles to race a full 50 yards to score.

Once again, after squandering a lot of opportunities, Keighley put the squeeze on.

A charged down pressure kick out of defence was touched down by Keighley’s back rower Max Wild, with Alex Brown adding the conversion to extend his side’s advantage.

But as the half time whistle approached, with Keighley in control, a loose long pass was picked off by outside half Heseltine, who raced through to score, with Kui adding the extra points. 

At the start of the second half, Keighley moved up a gear.

The forwards took the direct route and that led to a well-taken try for second row stalwart Ed Keighley,  which was converted by Brown.

Rishworthian responded well to that score with some fine attacking runs from full back Rangi Kui.

That pressure paid dividends and allowed them to win a penalty which was knocked through the posts by Kui.

Soon after, some neat play down the touchline from Keighley full back Jack Atkinson and outside half Brown tied up the defence, allowing the ball to be moved inside to back rower Shaun Minikin, who drove his way over under the posts.

Keighley News: Shaun Minikin's try gave Keighley some breathing space, but Old Rishworthian fought back well.Shaun Minikin's try gave Keighley some breathing space, but Old Rishworthian fought back well. (Image: John Ashton.)

Brown converted that score to give Keighley a healthy 26-15 lead, but then his side appeared to lose their concentration in a mad five-minute spell around the hour mark.

They allowed Rishworthian scrum half Sutcliffe the opportunity to break down field, and after some crisp passing winger Oli Marshall was over the whitewash, as Kui once again converted.

At this stage, the visitors realised that they were in with a real chance of inflicting Keighley’s first home defeat in over four years.

The shock looked on when a dropped ball from Keighley in midfield was picked up and moved wide, giving excellent full back Kui a well-deserved try.

He also added the conversion to put his side 29-26 in front with a quarter of an hour remaining.

Time was running out for Keighley, but their pressure play was eventually rewarded with a penalty in front of the posts.

Instead of the almost certain three points, they chose the scrum option, from which a solid drive by the forwards was rewarded with a try for centre Alfie Seeley.

Brown finished the scoring off with a penalty, and Rishworthian had no answer this time, but at least deservedly claimed a losing bonus point from what was a marvellous match.

This coming Saturday sees Keighley head out on the road for the first time in 2024, looking to increase their lead at the summit with an away win at mid-table Wensleydale.