AS befitting someone making their 300th first XV appearance - a more difficult landmark to achieve than it used to be - Keighley’s Craig Spencer was given a guard of honour going onto the pitch on Saturday by his team-mates and club coaching staff.

However, the 36-year-old prop’s day was nearly memorable for another reason as West Leeds came close to spiking Keighley’s long unbeaten home record in a gripping Counties One Yorkshire derby, only to fall just short and lose 21-17.

Prior to facing fellow top-four club West Leeds, Keighley had won 24 and drawn two of their last 26 home matches on their Rugby 365 artificial surface - a sequence stretching back to a 27-12 home defeat to Leodiensians in October 2019.

However, with West Leeds scoring a converted try in the 57th minute to trail 14-10 and a try in the seventh minute of stoppage time to trail 21-17, Keighley’s golden home sequence could have come to an end on Saturday.

But Spencer, who came off the bench to replace Sam Booker in the 46th minute, never lost faith in his colleagues, saying: “I was not too worried. The attitude and determination that we have in the team helped us to win, as did our defence.”

Earning his first XV debut as a 17-year-old centre - he was awarded his first XV tie in that position - Spencer had played as a junior at No 8 before switching to centre before realising, after bulking up, that the front row was where he belonged, and the rest is history.

Spencer, who has a skilful pair of hands, said: “West Leeds are no mugs and we knew that they would have a purple patch but our defence stood up and we did what we had to do.”

Keighley started superbly, with Alex Brown’s kick-off being regained by winger Sam Blakeley, with Brown then chipping ahead for Blakeley to take the ball on the first bounce and score after just 104 seconds.

Brown converted for 7-0 but the speed and elusiveness of West Leeds centre Chitoyo Eliah soon became apparent as he attacked down the right two minutes later.

Fly half Brown had another shot at goal in the seventh minute after flanker Ollie Snowden was taken out off the ball, but the kick drifted to the left of the posts.

West Leeds were giving away too many penalties and they conceded another in the 24th minute when Keighley’s pack drove with intent, lock Ed Keighley going over soon after for Brown to convert.

Home No 8 Tom Whyte went off on the half-hour in what was an attritional game, and West Leeds’ most influential forward John Elkington soon followed him, also with a knee injury.

Keighley News: Keighley will hope they are not without key forward Tom Whyte for too long.Keighley will hope they are not without key forward Tom Whyte for too long. (Image: John Ashton.)

The visitors got on the board with a penalty in first-half stoppage time from Keir Breakwell after Keighley centre Alfie Seeley had been yellow carded for a deliberate knock on.

The second half developed into a stalemate between two well-matched sides, but West Leeds were the first to score via a try by centre Sam Marshall in the 57th minute, Breakwell’s conversion making it 14-10.

However, Keighley got the next try seven minutes later through centre Alfie Seeley, although referee Graeme Hall had to check with Keighley’s touch judge whether Seeley had gone over the sideline.

Brown’s conversion made it 21-10, but there was a worrying incident when West Leeds No 8 Charlie Wichary was taken off on a spinal board in the 77th minute after contesting a kick in the air.

He went to Airedale Hospital for an examination, but the visitors did not let that drama put them off, scoring in the 87th minute via hooker Nick Jones, Breakwell’s conversion taking the score to 21-17.

Unfortunately for West Leeds they did not create any more opportunities in the three minutes that remained.

Keighley, whose crowd was swelled by an ex-players’ reunion, remain on top of the table with 62 points, two ahead of Bradford Salem, who have won their last nine league matches, including a thumping 38-17 victory at lowly Harrogate Pythons on Saturday.

Wetherby are third on 58 points and West Leeds fourth on 54 points, with a game in hand on the top three.

Salem visit Keighley, who have won their last eight league matches, on February 17 in what promises to be a titanic derby between in-form teams, and Spencer said: “Salem is always on my mind but we have to focus on Beverley away first next Saturday.”

Elsewhere in Counties One Yorkshire, rock-bottom Bradford & Bingley are now just four points behind Harrogate, having secured a fine 15-12 home win over Pocklington on Saturday.

In Counties Two Yorkshire, Baildon got their faint title hopes back on track with a 30-20 victory at mid-table Roundhegians.

Finally, in Regional One North East, Cleckheaton grabbed a vital 24-22 win at fellow strugglers Doncaster Phoenix in what is a hugely tight relegation battle in that division.