THE co-owner of Keighley Cougars insists that positive times are ahead after the club has struggled at the start of the season following their promotion.

Cougars slumped to fourth-from-bottom in the Betfred Championship table after an 18-16 defeat at basement side Newcastle Thunder last Sunday, to record their five successive loss.

It has already been a season of change at the club following the dismissal of Rhys Lovegrove as head coach. He has been replaced by director of rugby Jake Webster and interim head coach Jy-Mel Coleman.


They will be hoping to stop their slide on the field when they host Whitehaven on Sunday, June 25 (3pm kick-off) in a special annual fixture for the club.

The clash will play host to Cougars’ annual Pride match which will celebrate inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community within the sport. Cougar Park will feature a host of pre-match entertainment from 1pm including food stalls, music and appearances from drag artists.

Cougars have led the way with an annual Pride fixture since it was introduced in July 2019, only taking a break in 2020 due to the pandemic. The 2023 version will be the fourth time Cougars have staged the clash.

Mr O’Neill, who co-owns Cougars alongside his husband Kaue Garcia, says this weekend’s clash can also help bring Keighley together after the town’s then-Mayor, Councillor Mohammed Nazam, took part in the flag-raising ceremony in his role as Mayor of Keighley, which he later resigned from. 

But he subsequently posted on a Facebook page called Keighley Pakistanis that he "wholeheartedly" apologised for participating in the event and described his decision as a "lapse in judgment". He was subsequently suspended by the Conservative Party on Monday, June 19.

Mr O’Neill says the club is united behind the scenes as they look to return to winning ways this weekend with a special fixture for his club.

He added the injury-hit club signed five players before the Thunder game last weekend who did not have sufficient time to gel with the rest of the squad before the trip up to Newcastle.

He said: “It’s been tough. There is a big cultural difference between League One and the Championship. That’s why we had to make changes.

“The culture has improved. Injuries have played a major part.

“I’m not feeling that negative about the situation. We should be in the top six, but we’re not. That’s disappointing.

“Behind the scenes, things are more united than they have ever been.

“Jake (Webster) is working day and night. It makes me feel positive behind the scenes.

“We need the passion at the club. The passion is coming back.

“Changing the coach was not a knee-jerk reaction. It was much more cultured and thought through. It was a tough decision. It was not a flippant decision. We’re still getting criticism over it.”

Speaking on the importance of the Pride clash, he added: “It’s more important than ever to hold Pride events. It was disappointing with the situation with the Mayor of Keighley and that is why we need to do these Pride events. It helps make people a bit more equal.”

“Keighley has been in a negative headline and the Pride event will hopefully help bring people together. I’m proud that other clubs are now following us. Other people are seeing what we’re doing and embracing it. All this helps moves things move in society.

“We have a lot of LGBTQ+ fans. They see it as a safe space to come.

“We want to get back to winning ways and we have a big party and get people walking away smiling.”

Meanwhile, O’Neill revealed full-back Lewis Young may not need surgery as had been initially feared after suffering an ankle injury earlier this season.

The Cougars ace was facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines as the club waiting for an operation via the NHS after opting not to go private for any potential treatment.

But O’Neill says Young is seeing a specialist this week and may be able to go through a spell of rehabilitation rather than surgery as he bids to return to action.

O’Neill also revealed Cougars is planning to bring in a policy where each player will be required to have injury insurance policy when they are at the club.