WHEN asked what he expected of Keighley next season in Yorkshire Division One, new head coach Dave Duxbury gave an one-word answer: improvement.

The Rose Cottage club finished seventh last season, but the former Baildon, West Park Leeds and Skipton coach isn't just talking about their position in the table.

For example, he said: "I want us to field a fourth XV next season."

With several signings expected, four or five lads coming up from the Academy and maybe even former head coach Danny McGee turning out occasionally, they shouldn't be short on numbers down the teams, but Duxbury admitted it was a pity their new artificial grass pitch won't be ready for use much before their first home league game.

That takes place against Bradford Salem on September 16 (Keighley's first two league matches are away) while the official opening won't be until another derby against North Ribblesdale on October 21.

Duxbury said: "Numbers at training on Tuesdays and Thursdays are good at 30, and the players are practising their skills from 7pm-7.30pm before game-related drills after that up to 8.30pm."

Preparations for playing on an artificial pitch are also stepping up, with 20 Keighley players having visited Leeds Rhinos' pitch at Kirkstall and a friendly looming at Preston Grasshoppers a week tomorrow (7.30pm).

Duxbury added: "The forwards have already realised that they need to be fitter and faster to play on an artificial pitch – that has come from them, not me – and the match at Preston is not only about getting more used to playing on artificial grass but is also about facing that calibre of opposition.

"The bounce of the ball is truer on artificial grass, but rugby players should not be letting the ball bounce anyway!"

Keighley are also facing Yarnbury at home on Thursday, August 17 (7.30pm) before a Stags friendly at Baildon on Wednesday, August 23 (7.30pm).

Duxbury said: "Although Yarnbury went down (from Yorkshire One), they will run us around the pitch a lot, while the Baildon game is a chance for other players to get game-time."

As for pre-season training, he said: "We have been doing a lot of small-sided games, such as eight v eight, ten v ten and 12 v 12 to get players used to handling the ball, and we are getting former Yorkshire Carnegie and Scotland prop Mike Cusack in to do a couple of scrum sessions."

Duxbury, who has added former Baildon, West Park Leeds and Skipton assistant Dave Hoyle to the club's coaching roster, has a firm idea of who the leading contenders will be in their division this season.

He said: "Scarborough, Moortown, who have former Leeds Rhino Kylie Leuluai, Beverley and York should be right up there as they are either semi-pro or are playing foreigners.

"It is a pity that we don't have our artificial pitch from the start of the season, and it will take a couple of seasons for the players to properly get used to it.

"It will be a tough season, but a lot of the players are Keighley through and through and all I want from us is improvement."