CRAIG Lingard has called for a siege mentality from his Keighley Cougars side in Betfred League One this season as they look to make up a 12-point deficit following their takeover by former chairman Mick O'Neill.

The Cougars head coach is busy planning for the new campaign, which is only two weeks away, after the days of Cougarmania have dawned for a second time.

Scotland international Davey Dixon and Benn Hardcastle, who lined up for the club last year, have already signed new deals, with Lingard waiting on a number of other players to have their Cougars contracts rubber-stamped by the Rugby Football League (RFL) after it was removed from special measures.

Half back Jack Miller has arrived on a one-year deal following his release from Doncaster at the end of the 2018 season. Other names set to join him include Serbian international Jason Muranka, who signed for Cougars from Doncaster in November last year.

Players including Alfie Seeley, Aaron Levy and Cougars legend James Feather have been training with the club over recent weeks and may also sign on a permanent basis.

And off the field, strength and conditioning coach Paul Royston has rejoined the coaching staff.

The RFL imposed the 12-point deduction as a result of the club's pre-season and the transfer of membership from controversial previous owners Austria Holdings.

Cougars fans will get their first chance to see this season's squad when they entertain Championship side Featherstone Rovers on Friday night (kick-off 7.30pm). Cougars also hope to arrange a friendly against Super League giants Leeds Rhinos before the season starts at Whitehaven on February 17. Cougars' first home game is against Coventry Bears on March 3.

In addition to competing in the 11-team Betfred League One, the Cougars will also enter the Coral Challenge Cup and the new 1895 Cup.

Lingard said: "It is going to be difficult for us this season.

"The points deduction doesn't help, as the league is smaller.

"We need six wins to get back to zero points. There is no guarantee, but we are aiming to do it from our first six games. We are still putting a team together. If we win six games, we then only have another 14 games to do anything this season.

"We don't just want to survive, we want to compete as much as we can. We want to get those 12 points as soon as we can. Then we will assess it and see where we are.

"Every single one of the League One predictions for this season has Keighley finishing bottom. Everybody has written us off. That has motivated the players. We will print off these predictions and take them on the road with us, as well as for home games and us them as a motivation.

"We are that far behind that we are now where most teams were at the end of last season.

"We are under no illusions of the tasks we have ahead for us this season.

"We are going to throw everything at it. If we stayed up and got into the play-offs it would be a Cinderella story. There is never a dull moment at Keighley Cougars.

"I'm getting calls from people who have played in the Super League and the Championship and want to play for us as they haven't got a team yet."

A relieved Lingard also spoke of his joy of the club's takeover after a stressful pre-season for him personally, which saw him quit Cougars last month.

He added: "It's a massive relief. It has been a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. Now we have got the guarantee we are starting the season and we have a team in Keighley. It is the outcome that everyone wanted. It is great to finally get it over the line. We now have people in charge who have the club at heart.

"I was very hopeful it was going to happen, but that hope started to diminish.

"I really feared for the future of the club the week before the takeover.

"Without them taking over the club would have been dead and buried. It would have gone.

"Now there is an aura of hope around the town and we need to embrace and utilise that. We want to create the 2019 version of Cougarmania."

O'Neill, in charge during the 1990s, led a consortium which took over the Cougar Park club last week, said they are working round the clock to get their side ready for the new campaign.

He also paid tribute to the club's fans and Lingard for their loyalty during a turbulent pre-season which included players and staff, both past and present, not being paid their wages for two months.

He said: “We have to thank the RFL for the enormous support they have given us during negotiations with the previous owner and accepting our application to run the club at the end of a very difficult period for all concerned.

“We know that 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.

“I must pay a big respect to our coach Craig Lingard who has done a magnificent job in putting a team together under very difficult circumstances for the coming season. We are looking forward to working with him and giving him all the support he deserves to achieve our aim."

Ralph Rimmer, RFL chief executive, hoped Cougars' takeover will be well received through the sport.

He 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.

“There’s been an enormous amount of work behind the scenes led by Karen Moorhouse and Alan Darfi, and I’d like to thank her and the rest of our team at the RFL – as well as the new owners for recognising that.”

Cougars legend Phil Stephenson, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2017, has been named as club president and is set to have a president's lounge at the ground named after him. The logo of the Motor Neurone Disease Association will be featured on the Cougars' kit this season.

Supporters also turned up in their droves last Sunday to help get the ground ready ahead of the new season. The clean-up included restoring the Hall of Fame bar.