THE old saying reads never go back. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The same applies in sport.

But Ritchie Hawkyard says he is returning to Keighley Cougars with the club in far better shape than it was a year ago when he left.

The fans' favourite left Cougar Park with the club in turmoil, part of the collection of players and staff who were owed unpaid wages by the club's previous owners, Austria Holdings. Hawkyard felt he had to walk away and moved to fellow Betfred League One side Oldham Roughyeds.

This paid dividends as Hawkyard was part of the Oldham side which won promotion via an 18-14 victory in last month's play-off final, helped by his man of the match performance against Newcastle Thunder. Along the way he scored 12 tries in 22 appearances.

But he says his 33-year-old body was not up to next season in the Championship, with only one destination in his mind; Cougars.

There have been many changes at the club since Hawkyard left; the feel-good factor is back following chairman Mick O'Neill's return with his reboot of the 90s Cougarmania.

Now full-back Hawkyard says he can't wait to wear the red, white and green jersey again alongside a host of high-profile pre-season signings including Bradford Bulls' Jake Webster.

Hawkyard, who signed a one-year deal with Cougars last month, said: "I'm over the moon. To be fair, I was looking at retiring at the end of the season. I had a few niggling injuries. I felt like I was too old for it. On the morning after a Sunday game, it wasn't taking the next day for me to recover, it was taking me until the Thursday to recover.

"My body probably won't take it in the Championship. It's like the Super League now. Your body goes through a lot more. Every game is like a final. You put your body through it every game. My body is not up to that now.

"Oldham said they were happy for me. When it came to moving on, there was only one club I was going back to.

"I loved my time in Keighley, with the fans and players. They always made me and my family feel welcome. I just felt I needed to move."

It is easy to see why Hawkyard is such a fans' favourite at Cougars, with a great career already under his belt.

Starting at Bulls in a Super League match against Huddersfield Giants in 2007, he has scored 96 tries in 257 appearances, notching up 426 career points so far. The former Swinton Lions ace scored 34 tries in 64 games for 92 points, during his first spell with Cougars between 2016 and 2018.

He also has one Scotland international appearance to his name when he played in a friendly against France in 2007.

But it is the future which takes up Hawkyard's focus, with his eyes firmly fixed on a title charge during 2020.

Hawkyard: "It's shaping up to be a good season. It is what we needed.

"Cougars have had a good shake-up, Mick (O'Neill) and Mike (Smith) have come back and re-energised the club, putting it in the right direction.

"It was a bit stale before and they have come in with some fresh ideas.

"It is good that we now have a big, aggressive pack. We have experienced lads like Wrighty (Ryan Wright), (Jake) Webster and me.

"We need to get out of this league. I have got out of League One three times and every time we have won it we have had experienced lads and an aggressive pack. We want to get back to where we belong.

"There are 12 teams in that league (League One). It's going to be tough. Newcastle, Doncaster have more money than anyone in that league. They are splashing it about."