Cougars are saved as O’Neill returns

Keighley Cougars' chairman Mick O'Neill
Keighley Cougars' chairman Mick O'Neill
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KEIGHLEY COUGARS will compete in Betfred League One this year, under new ownership.

The Rugby Football League board has approved the transfer of Cougars’ membership to a new consortium and the club are now free to sign players ahead of their opening fixture at Whitehaven on Sunday, February 17.

Keighley, who had been placed in special measures under their previous ownership, will begin the season with a 12-point deduction, but have been granted entry to the Coral Challenge Cup and new 1895 Cup and will continue to play at Cougar Park.

Former owner Mick O’Neill has returned as Cougars’ chairman heading a consortium which also includes Mike Smith and Tim Wood, along with O’Neill’s son Ryan and his husband Kaue Garcia. Mike Loughtman, a Keighley expat who currently resides in Sydney, completes the consortium.

Ownership will be split evenly with 10 per cent of shares in the new company given to Cougars’ supporters club in “recognition of their loyalty”.

O’Neill said: “Being back in control after 20 years means so much to me personally and my family. The town desperately needs a successful RL club and we intend to make that happen.

“We are all looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead and will be working hard to bring a smile back to Cougars and the game in general.”

Cougars’ rivals in League One include Hunslet who finished two places above them in seventh last year.

O’Neill added: “We know the 12 points deduction that has had to be imposed on us by the RFL will make it more difficult to achieve promotion this season, but we are focused on getting into the play-offs and once there anything can happen.”

RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer said: “We hope the news, securing the future of a club which was formed in 1876 and joined the Northern Union in 1900, will be welcomed throughout the game and especially among the other clubs in Betfred League One.”