Keighley Cougars v Bradford Bulls: Yorkshire rivals finally end 42-year derby wait

JOHN KEAR was just 21 the last time Bradford Bulls visited Keighley Cougars for a league fixture.

Bradford coach John Kear.
Bradford coach John Kear.

With no disrespect to the veteran coach, it was a long time ago – and long before the respective clubs had those animalistic monikers.

In fact, it was Good Friday 1976 so, even though they sit just 10 miles apart, Keighley have had to bide their time before meeting their more illustrious derby rivals once again.

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They will attest it should have come far earlier; none of their fans will forget how Cougars were so cruelly denied their rightful place in Super League, alongside the Bulls and all the big-hitters, back in 1995.

The word injustice doesn’t do those events, well... justice.

It is in League 1, however, where Keighley and Bradford now reunite but it is still understandable why there is so much excitement surrounding tomorrow’s fixture at Lawkholme Lane.

Around 4,200 fans are expected to cram into Cougar Park and Kear, the ex-England coach who took on fallen World Club champions Bradford at the start of the year, knows what to expect.

“It will be massive, no doubt about it,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “It’s the first time in 42 years since these two clubs have played a competitive league fixture so they’ve been waiting a while.

“The crowd is going to be very big and we’ll swell it with our away following.

“It’s a tight ground, the crowd is on top of you and the game will have a cup tie-feel to it.

“It’ll be a feisty game, I’m sure, and most are when they’re derbies like this but especially when you’ve had to wait since 1976 for one.

“Also it’ll be the biggest crowd of the season at Cougar Park and it’ll be the same at most grounds we go to this year.”

York enjoyed a record crowd of 4,281 as the League 1 campaign got off to a remarkable start last month. Bradford only sneaked a 22-20 victory in controversial circumstances with the last kick of the game.

Kear, who is “enjoying it, very much so” at Odsal, knows they won’t have it easy wherever they go in League 1 and realises Keighley will certainly be fired up for tomorrow’s contest.

“They have Richie Hawkyard at full-back, and he’s a feisty type of player who puts his body on the line, while there’s two ex-Hull KR half-backs in Benn Hardcastle and Matty Beharrell,” Kear explained.

“Mike Emmett is someone I know from my time at Wakefield while on the edges there’s Josh Tonks and Brendan Rawlins so they have some strike.

“But we’ve got a healthy squad and we’re looking forward to this.”

And what about those days back at the advent of Super League?

“Keighley justified being in Super League on the back of their performances and results,” said Kear.

“It was the height of the Cougarmania era with Phil Larder as coach and they had a very good rugby league team.

“You can emphasise with that sense of injustice. But it’s a long, long time ago and I don’t think it will play a big part come Sunday.”