THEY came out in their droves for one of their own and Cougars chairman Mick O'Neill couldn't have been more proud.

Phil Stephenson, legendary Keighley captain, was laid to rest with a well-attended funeral at Cougar Park, the ground he had graced with gusto for so many years.

He lost his brave two-year battle with motor neurone disease (MND) last month aged 47, a fight he gave his all to while keeping his trademark sense of humour intact.

Stephenson, who lived at Cowling, played 343 times for the Cougars in a 15-year spell, joining from Clayton, until his retirement aged 34 at the end of the 2006 season and was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame. He also captained the side. A king of Cougarmania the first time around during the 1990s.

He also played for Silsden ARLFC after retiring from the semi-professional game.

Past players and former team-mates of Stephenson, including James Rushworth and head coach Gary Moorby, spoke to the mourners.

His final farewell at Cougar Park attracted fans young and old, who remembered Stevo's loyal service.

The funeral service began with the arrival of the hearse onto the pitch, and the carrying of Stephenson's coffin past the Danny Jones Stand and into the marquee.

O'Neill, who gave a eulogy at the funeral, told how he and a colleague had noticed Stephenson's talent during a cold and snowy rugby match in Queensbury.

Growing up in Clayton, Bradford, Stephenson's father John played for the Cougars while he joined the local side, the Clayton Amateur Rugby League Club. Phil's brother Andy also played for Keighley.

O'Neill said: "It was a great day. There was a big crowd. It was a good send-off.

"The crowd were fantastic, it was brilliant. They were very respectful in the stand. They did everything right. There were probably between 300 to 400 people, or more, it was incredible.

"I got through my speech and that was the main thing for me. I did not think I would get through it. I ended up getting a standing ovation. Everybody was congratulating me. I didn't do it for that. How I got through it I will never know. I will miss him.

"I didn't have a clue what I was going to say, but it came naturally. I welled up at the beginning. It just came out.

"I was proud as well. A lot of ex-players turned up, a lot of players from the 90s, Matt Foster came from Australia.

"I signed him when he was 18, so I had known him for 30 years.

"He had a ball with us. He was a solid player, never complained, always had a smile on his face. He worked hard, he was a strong, tough player. He was a gentle giant when he came off the field.

"Phil has got a lovely family, his brother played for us and his nephew (Alix) plays for Bradford Bulls."

Following his death, friends and community leaders paid moving tributes, describing the father-of-three as "an inspiration" who refused to let the increasingly-debilitating condition destroy his good humour.