Whitehaven’s spirited performance in a 24-8 loss at Championship side Barrow Raiders earned the thumbs up from chairman Tommy Todd.

It was the second defeat of their pre-season, following a 24-6 loss at Workington Town, but there was plenty to commend in it.

Todd said: “I thought there was a big improvement on the performance against Town and that’s what the coaches are looking for from week to week.

“We knew we were going into it with a depleted squad, but every one of them gave it 100 per cent and that was very encouraging. Some of our lads aren’t the biggest but they were really going into it with gusto and probably deserved to be closer in the end.

“It didn’t help, when we only had 17 players, that Dion Aiye had to come off very early in the game so that was another handicap we had to cope with.”

Aiye is suffering from a badly bruised ankle, and although he was initially on crutches, is not expected to be on the sidelines for long. Whitehaven now have just under three weeks to prepare for the final warm-up game against Newcastle Thunder. The north-east side had a good 16-6 win over an inexperienced Wakefield Trinity side on Sunday to underline why they have been put in as second favourites to win the League One title.

Thunder are due to visit the Recreation Ground on February 10, exactly a week before the season starts. and Keighley Cougars should be the first competitive visitors to west Cumbria.

But there’s still grave concerns being expressed about Keighley’s ability to be ready for February 17 as they are still in special measures, with no clarification on whether the owners are totally committed or are prepared to sell to an interested local consortium.

Haven chairman Todd said: “It’s a mess and a great shame it’s happened to a long-established club like Keighley.

“We are getting into a position where we need to know for our sponsorship arrangements on the opening day of the season.

“We’ve already lost Hemel Sags and if Keighley are unable to take part it will leave everybody with only nine home games which certainly isn’t enough.

“We just hope that the problems at Keighley can be sorted out and they will be able to compete in League One this year.”