Head coach Neil Kelly has lauded the ‘never-say-die attitude’ of his Cornwall RLFC side after they were defeated 56-12 by league leaders Keighley Cougars at a sun-drenched Mem, writes Gareth Davies.
Shorn of leading try scorer Harry Aaronson and Hull Kingston Rovers’ teenage half-back sensation Adam Rusling, who is currently on loan to the Duchy outfit, Kelly could have been forgiven for fearing a tough afternoon at the office.
Although the scoreboard will point towards a routine visiting victory, it only told half the story. Cornwall by virtue of Luke Collins’ first half sin binning and Liam Whitton’s perplexing red card, played 52 minutes of the regulation 80 a man short.
With that in mind, it was a heroic effort from Kelly’s men, something that wasn’t lost on the former Super League Coach of the Year at full time.
“It was a difficult game and Keighley are a good side,” he said. “We didn’t get the result but anyone who was at the game couldn’t have failed to recognise the spirit and the endeavour that my team played with.
“There was a never-say-die attitude after we had a man sent off and playing the top side in this division, we have come away with the same scoreline as Keighley inflicted on the side (North Wales Crusaders) that are second in this division.
“After about 20 minutes, Keighley got a penalty inside our own 20 metre line and they chose to kick for goal. That showed the respect my players had gained because Keighley went for goal.
“I took that as a massive pat on the back for my players – both in the way they approached the game and played in the match. Keighley felt that the result was still in doubt at that point.
“I feared this game because we were shorn of a few players who were part and parcel of our continued improvements. You watch videos of Keighley, who score points for fun, and I was a little bit concerned.”
Understandably, Kelly refused to drawn on the decision to send Whitton into the sheds for an early bath just shy of the half-time siren. Battling to play the ball, proceedings were halted by touch judge Peter Wroe and after consultation with merry whistle blower John McMullen, a red card was brandished for an alleged punch from the former Leeds Rhinos academy star.
“I thought (the referee) was going to get a card out for one of their players,” Kelly revealed.
“We are carrying the ball and I have spoken to Liam who is certain he was just pushing up after a tackle. We are at the bottom of the table and that goes with the territory – always feeling like you are not getting the rub of the green.
“I had no real issues with the referee other than the sending off but I will have to sit down and watch the video.”
Although the result didn’t go Cornwall’s way, Kelly was keen to praise the backing he received from his side against the Betfred League 1 champions elect as another four figure attendance was present at Penryn to watch rugby league’s newest professional entity.
“Our supporters were knowledgeable about how good a side Keighley were,” he added. “They got behind the team and recognised that they were giving everything for the cause.
“The team feels that as well and it bodes well for the rest of the season.”
[Featured image: Patrick Tod / Cornwall RLFC]