Whitehaven skipper Marc Shackley believes the tight-knit nature of his side is the reason they are top of League One.

The West Cumbrians went a point clear after Sunday’s 12-12 draw with Newcastle as neck-and-neck rivals Hunslet were beaten by London Skolars.

Prop forward Shackley said: “I reckon it’s down to the fact we are a close knit group and we are really fit.

“Most of the lads knock around together, with them living local and the two travellers Chris (Taylor) and Dave (Thompson) are very much part of that group.

“Gary (Charlton) put us through it in pre-season on our fitness and I know there were a few whinges at the time. But I think the lads appreciate now that it was for our benefit and we are reaping the rewards.

“Don’t get me wrong, we have some very good players in the squad but I think the key to our success has been our togetherness and our fitness.”

Shackley has been a consistent stand-out performer for Haven, and not shirking any work for a prop.

He played the whole 80 minutes in one game and has frequently clocked up 65- and 70-minute contributions in the front row.

“When the team’s playing well and winning you don’t mind extra work, although you feel it a bit afterwards,” said the 30-year-old skipper.

Whitehaven now lead the table by a point with seven of the 20 league games completed.

“I think we might have got there a bit unnoticed but it’s the old story – we just have to be consistent and look no further than the next game.

“Generally though if we can win our home matches and pick up points in some of the tougher away games, like we did at Town, then I think we could still be there or thereabouts when it matters,” he says.

Haven will get a break from league action this Sunday when they travel to Oldham in the new 1895 Cup.

“We didn’t play particularly well at Oldham, our only league defeat very early in the season. But we haven’t looked back since then and it would be nice to go back and prove a point,” he said.