In the first part of the 2021 season review, Josh looks back at the first half of the season that saw a welcome return first to the sport, then crowds, before the end of an undefeated streak.
After just over twelve months since the last game prior to Covid-19 at Rochdale, the Cougars returned to action in the first round of the Betfred Challenge Cup against the London Broncos.
Tries from Mo Agoro and Brenden Santi were not enough to seal progression, but the side were good money against full-time opposition in the capital.
The regular league season would begin six weeks later as we entered May.
Whilst restrictions were being lifted elsewhere, another two games behind closed doors were still to come against Doncaster and Barrow.
Despite a slow start against the Dons, a Charlie Graham doubled would inspire the side to begin the League One season with a 44-18 victory as Rhys Lovegrove’s side started League One in style.
However, things would quickly unravel the following week as two early injuries left the Cougars on the backfoot in Cumbria as title chasing Barrow took full advantage of both injury and ill-discipline to see off their visitors.
The week after though saw fans return to Cougar Park but they were welcomed home with a loss to Rochdale.
In a breathless high scoring game, three tries in five minutes would cover up the cracks of a second half collapse to threaten a sensational comeback before Shaun Ainscough broke hearts with 90 seconds remaining.
The second half would prove the talking point once more as Hunslet visited, but this time for more positive reasons.
After a pointless first fifty minutes of the game, literally, the Cougars ran in 40 unanswered points in the last half hour saw them ease to victory over their West Yorkshire rivals.
Another trip to Cumbria to face Workington followed, but Chris Thorman’s side had too much on the afternoon to win 34-20, however Josh Slingsby would be a star on the day as he scored his first two professional tries.
Covid-19 then reared its ugly head as an outbreak in camp would disrupt the Cougars for three weeks straight.
A makeshift side, only put together on a day’s notice, still managed to brush aside the West Wales Raiders with the game best remembered for the link-up try between the father and son duo of Quentin and Phoenix Laulu-Togaga’e.
Covid though would postpone the Coventry game the following week with another makeshift team of just 16 players taking to the field the weekend after at Cougar Park.
However, a dogged performance from that side put pride into the club as they saw off the London Skolars on the back of a Brenden Santi inspired performance.
The away day blues though continued in another sensational game at the North Wales Crusaders.
After falling 26-0 down inside 18 minutes, the side rallied to take a 28-26 lead. But ill-discipline cost them late as the Crusaders sealed a 34-28 victory in Colwyn Bay.
But the following week saw the performance of the season as we reached the halfway point of the year.
Undefeated runaway league leaders Barrow Raiders arrived at Cougar Park with a bounce in their step.
Whilst the country was gripped with football fever on the day England brought football home again, the Cougars blew the Raiders off the park to end their undefeated start and lay down a statement of intent.
Review by Joshua Chapman
Photography by Jonny Tomes-Green
By Joshua Chapman