Keighley on target in phoney war

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The Independent Online
Keighley 22

Huddersfield 22

An equalising try from Simon Irving three minutes from time means that Keighley are virtually certain to finish as Second Division champions, further strengthening their claim for inclusion in the Super League.

A draw with Huddersfield, better points difference than Batley, and a remaining game against the bottom club, Highfield, as good as guarantees them the title. That, however, was not the only, or even the main, issue at Cougar Park yesterday.

Keighley have drawn on their reserves of Churchillian rhetoric to promise to fight them on the beaches for their place in the Super League. The importance of that reduced the status of this match, on a heavily sanded pitch, to that of a phoney war.

It was, for all that, fiercely fought. Trailing at half-time because of their inability to field a couple of Huddersfield kicks, Keighley went ahead soon after the interval only to fall behind again and draw level once more.

When Ian Gately's pass gave Dean Hanger an interception try it looked as though, on top of all their other uncertainties, Keighley would not be able to celebrate the championship. But then Gately made amends by combining with Andre Stoop to send Irving in and, three minutes later, the pitch filled with victims of Cougarmania, singing, truthfully, but prematurely, "We are the champions".

The other and bigger question remained hanging in the air, but Keighley remain confident of winning their case. "We can't lose," their chairman, Mick O'Neill, said. "I've never been so fired-up about anything in my life."

Keighley's determination is illustrated by O'Neill's willingness to fly to Australia to convince Rupert Murdoch personally of the justice of his claim. He has also got financial backing for a new 15,000-seat stadium and agreement from an Endsleigh League football club that they can play there until it is built.

He is even prepared to forego the £1.1m that other Super League clubs will get. When a chairman of a Yorkshire rugby league club says that you know that he is in deadly earnest.

It is not now possible for Huddersfield to claim one of the top two places in the division, but their case for Super League inclusion rests on different foundations, notably those beneath their magnificent Alfred McAlpine stadium.

The situation into which rugby league has got itself was illustrated by the way that even the final outcome of a gripping match caused less pandemonium than the rumour that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was intervening in the Super League furore. There is clearly extra time to be played in that match.

Keighley: Stoop; Eyres, Pinkney, Irving (Dixon, 29), (Irving, h-t), Kenyon; Powell, Robinson; Hill (Berry 61), Ramshaw, Gately, Fleary, Cochrane, Wood (Dixon, 57).

Huddersfield: Hellewell; Barton, Shelford, Austin, Reynolds; Hanger, Kerry; King, St Hilaire, Pucill, Richards, Maders (Taylor, 25), Pearce. Substitute not used: Coulter.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).