The sad and sudden loss of one of Keighley Cougars’ much-loved sons, 44-year-old Johnny Walker, has come as a great shock to the rugby league world.

Johnny, who died of a suspected heart attack, was born on December 27, 1968, at Settle and started his rugby-playing career with North Ribblesdale RUFC.

He quickly developed into an outstanding pros-pect, gaining representative honours for Under-18 Yorkshire RU Colts and the North of England, and then later at Under-21 level.

He moved to one of the top northern rugby union clubs, Otley, in 1987, scoring 98 tries in senior rugby against top-class opposition.

Johnny proved himself to be one of the most powerful backs in the game with his physical strength and tremendous speed on the wing.

Following an outstanding and brilliant display for Otley against Bradford & Bingley RUFC, he was signed by Cougars chairman Mike O’Neill in October 1991 on a three-year contract.

The 6ft, 15 stone rangy winger made his debut for Keighley at Nottingham as a trialist under the pseudonym Arthur Johnson.

Johnny – who had been working at Giggleswick School – went on to play 64 games, plus two as sub, for the Cougars, scoring 34 tries and 43 goals.

His last game for the club was on April 25, 1994 at home to Rochdale.

He later had spells with Batley, Barrow and Huns-let.

Johnny was very popular with both players and fans alike as a result of his 100 per cent dedication, his powerful runs and blistering pace.

O’Neill had nothing but the highest praise for Johnny – “a true gent, a pleasure to deal with and totally committed to the Cougar cause, who provided exciting and memorable times and who was held in the highest respect.”

Current Cougars chairman Gary Fawcett said: “Many of the fans and staff remember Johnny well from the time he played at the Cougars.

“From all associated with the club, our condolences go out to his family and friends at this very sad news.”

Johnny is father of Chris and Jack, who are making great headway at Leeds Carnegie RUFC, with Chris captaining England RU Under-20s.

Speaking on behalf of the club, Leeds head coach Diccon Edwards said: “We are devastated for the Walker family for their loss.

“Johnny was ever-present at our games for as long as I have been involved in the club and was always seen in the stands supporting his boys, whom he was extremely proud of.

“On behalf of everyone at Leeds Carnegie, we send our deepest condolences to the Walker family.”

Johnny’s funeral will take place at noon on Tuesday, January 29, at Giggleswick School Chapel, Settle.