CRAIG Lingard says he fears for the future of Keighley Cougars after resigning in protest at his coaching staff and players not getting paid overdue wages.

Lingard, 41, who was appointed in September 2016 and has himself not been paid for the last five-and-a-half months, revealed he had tendered his resignation last Saturday.

And he said his players and staff are owed money, which includes wages and bonuses, going back to August.

Lingard said: "I'm really fearful over the future of Keighley Cougars. It is an absolute mess. I can't see Keighley Cougars starting next season.

"The players still have not been paid.

"I tended my resignation on Saturday and said I could not continue as long as the players were owed money. I never walked away from a contract as a player.

"It has been one thing after another, there is always an excuse why the money has not gone in. It came to a point when I couldn't take it anymore.

"There is nobody there to run the team now."

Lingard has endured a difficult year amid changes off the field, which saw former chairman Gary Fawcett depart and new owners Austria Holdings take over.

He did not completely rule out returning to his post but admitted there had been a breakdown of trust between himself and the club.

Lingard said: "I would only consider coming back if the players are paid. But even then I would now find it difficult to come back.

"I have been asked to reconsider my decision. I am quite an honest bloke.

"It's ridiculous. There is only so long you can carry on without getting paid.

"There is nobody there to run the club, or the team.

"We were due to start pre-season training on Thursday but that's not going to happen.

"If I feel I could come back, I would come back. But a lot of trust has been broken between the club and myself.

"I have been working really closely with (general manager) Steve Gill, over the last two or three months in particular. We have developed a really good working relationship.

"I can't come back into an environment like last season. It was a massive learning experience for me. It took a lot of toll on me. It builds up on you."

Ritchie Hawkyard, 32, who joined League One rivals Oldham Roughyeds last week, says he is owed around £2,000 by his former club for two months' wages and win-loss bonuses.

The former Bradford Bulls full-back, who works as a plasterer and won three player of the season awards for Keighley this year, said he has contacted the RFL and the GMB trade union about the Cougars' plight.

He said: "They are trying to fob us off. It is stressing everyone out.

"I had to borrow spending money off my mum for my holiday last month.

"For the lads who are students and playing for the Cougars, this is their only income.

"Where do we go from here?

"I was there for three years. People at the club keep saying we will be paid. It's been going on for months now.

"It has got to the point when you feel you are not going to get your money.

"Everyone seemed to think it was rosy when they (the new owners) came in. It is frustrating that they are not doing things right off the field.

"I want to put it to bed now, as I have gone to a new club. A lot of the players from last season have moved on."

Lingard had been busy planning for next season in Betfred League One.

Seven new players have joined the Cougars ahead of their 2019 campaign, which Lingard says has now been thrown into doubt, while a series of key players have continued to leave, including Mike Emmett, Jose Kenga and Harry Aaronson, along with Hawkyard.

Lingard added: "We knew a few weeks ago that we would be working with a restricted budget for next year.

"We discussed where we were as a club and we were really positive for next season.

"I really don't know what's going to happen. I'm hoping everything is going to be all right.

"The town and supporters deserve better as well. Players and coaches and boards of directors come and go, but the supporters are always there. A lot of the supporters are becoming disillusioned."

Keighley-born prop Richard Moore, who had a spell on loan at Cougars along with spells at Bradford Bulls, Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield among other clubs, tweeted his support for Lingard.

He wrote: “Sad for my home-town club. Fair play to him, his players come first. What a mess, hope they sort things out.”

It is the latest blow for crisis-hit Cougars during a year of turmoil.

Major shareholders Austria Holdings, an off-shore investment company/portfolio, took over in July.

This followed news Cougars had just avoided going out of business after players' contracts had been met, the club's bank balance standing at just £34.23, and were looking to raise £45,000 to see them through to the rest of the season.

Hopes were high of brighter future with the appointment of former Castleford chief Gill as general manager, while work has been ongoing to refurbish the club's supporters bar.

But long-serving directors Simon Harrison and Neil Cullen resigned as directors last month, as did club ambassador Garry Schofied.

Cougars fans are due to be given the chance to ask Gill about the club's direction at a supporters' club meeting next Thursday, though his future also appears unclear at present.

Keighley Cougars have been contacted for a response but have yet to comment.