'HE was an absolute warrior' - tribute from one Keighley Cougars legend to another.

James 'Buster' Feather has remembered Phil Stephenson who lost his brave two-year battle with motor neurone disease (MND) last weekend. He was 47.

Former Cougars captain Stephenson, whose diagnosis of the disease was announced in June 2017, holds the record for the most number of appearances for Keighley in the summer era.

The long-serving prop played 343 games for the club in a 15-year spell before retiring at the age of 34 at the end of the 2006 season, having been part of the successful 'Cougarmania' period during the 1990s.

He joined Keighley from Clayton Amateur Rugby League Club and also played for Silsden ARLFC after retiring from the semi-professional game.

Feather made his Cougars debut season in 2006, playing alongside Stephenson, who was lining up for his final campaign in the game.

Feather recalls a larger than life inspirational leader on the pitch, who guided the early stages of his own playing career.

He said: "I will greatly miss him.

"He was a true warrior. He was a warrior until the end. The last time I saw him was at a charity game for him at Cougar Park two weeks ago. Seeing him then was testament to what sort of bloke he was.

"It was so heartbreaking. I didn't want to see him suffering.

"He was an absolute inspiration to everyone out there with MND and so are his family.

"I made my debut for Cougars alongside him in 2006, which was his final season. He was always a right character.

"I'll always remember him taking money off me when we played cards on the team bus.

"I was only 11 stone when I started but I thought I could take on the world with Phil alongside me. I started plenty of fires on the field and Phil would put them out.

"He was big, strong and athletic and a father figure to me.

"He always liked a drink and a laugh. He had the biggest smile and a good chuckle all of the time. It absolutely inspired me as a young player when he went into the Hall of Fame."

The former prop was made club president when O'Neill returned to the club as new owner in January this year.

Stephenson was entered into the Cougars Hall of Fame in 2007.

Cougars chairman Mick O'Neill paid tribute to Stephenson before the club's end-of-season award ceremony on Saturday night.

Cougars team manager Frank Levy wrote on social media: "I’m sure I speak on behalf of all the players and staff. Phil Stephenson was not only a great player and a Cougars legend

but the way he fought the disease was amazing.

"Karen Stephenson - your family is an absolute credit to you both. I’m proud to have been involved in a small way helping to raise funds for MNDA (Motor Neurone Disease Association). He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him."

The sport's governing body has also paid tribute to Stephenson.

Ralph Rimmer, Rugby Football League (RFL) chief executive: “This is such sad news. Phil Stephenson was a fine forward who offered outstanding service to the Keighley club, and earned further admiration for his courage off the field in recent years.

"On behalf of everyone at the RFL, we send sincere condolences to Phil’s family, friends, his former team-mates and all those at Keighley and beyond who will remember him so fondly.”