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New signings shine as Featherstone Rovers rout Keighley Cougars

Tonight marked the culmination of the first round of the 2023 Championship season and it was a game that looked set to promise plenty.

The invincible Keighley Cougars from 2022 were stepping up into the Championship under exciting head coach Rhys Lovegrove an star signing Luke Gale.

Visiting Cougar Park were the favourites for the Championship this season and Featherstone Rovers more than justified that favouritism as they routed Keighley 50-0.

Sean Long had a wealth of options available given the impressive recruitment his side have made and the first half saw many of them star.

It was the other Gale who made the first mark of the game as he crossed over in the corner following brilliant footwork and a smart offload from newly signed Chris Hankinson.

Hankinson had swapped the Pink City with Toulouse for Featherstone but he was incredibly busy in the first half, lining up to kick five times and making four of them.

The other four first-half tries saw young Riley Dean, on loan from Warrington, cross over twice and  with the first he highlighted his size as he reached over following a short powerful line.

That was quickly followed by two more short bursts from Brad Day and then skipper James Lockwood, with Featherstone dominating territory and possession.

The one time that Keighley forced a repeat set in the Rovers half saw this strange and panicked decision by Dane Chisholm to kick in behind on the second, only for the ball to run dead.

Chisholm’s wastefulness was quickly punished and it was Dean again who showed some footwork as opposed to force to make it a wide margin of 28-0 before the half.

The half-time break was much needed respite for Keighley but Rovers were quick to get going again as Gale crossed over in the corner once again just three minutes into the second-half.

What followed was a more competitive 10 minutes, arguably Keighley’s best in the game however more from the point of Featherstone having sealed the game and taking the foot off the gas.

McKenzie Yei, the Papua New Guinea World Cup star, will be a fan favourite for Rovers this season and it was his huge hits, constant offloads and persistent running that kept Keighley pinned in.

It seemed that the tide could turn when Toby Everett laid a huge hit on Yei however Everett’s excitement from that hit got the better of him and he went high on Caleb Aekins 30 seconds later.

It was Yei who then profited during the 10-minute sin bin of Everett’s, as the PNG prop crossed over to make the game 38-0 just minutes before Josh Hardcastle also capitalised.

If the game wasn’t already over at half-time it was the 10 minute period during which Featherstone had the man advantage that secured it, the game long gone by the hour mark and simply becoming a training exercise for Sean Long’s men.

During those final 20 minutes another new signing for Featherstone ran one in, Connor Jones making a brilliant line break and teeing up the supporting Caleb Aekins who crossed over under the sticks.

Riley Dean deservedly got the man of the match award but in truth it could have been any of the Featherstone new boys, with captain James Lockwood impressing as best of the rest.

A resounding 50-0 win to kickstart their season, and one that Keighley will hope to put behind them swiftly.

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