KEIGHLEY Cougars co-owner Ryan O’Neill is disappointed with Catalan Dragons’ handling of the Israel Folau signing.

O’Neill claims the Super League club have not directly addressed the views that new buy Folau expressed regarding homosexuality.

The 30-year-old was sacked by Rugby Australia last year after he wrote on social media that “hell awaits” gay people.

Therefore, when former Bradford Bulls coach Steve McNamara brought the centre over to France it sparked huge controversy.

O’Neill is thought to be the first openly gay professional rugby league club owner along with his husband Kaue Garcia, with the pair being part of the consortium that took over Cougars last year.

On Folau’s signing, O’Neill claimed: “It is a difficult one. The governing bodies, the Super League and RFL, didn’t want that to happen but for legal reasons they couldn’t stop it.

“The guy hasn’t actually committed a criminal offence so how can they stop a person doing their job as a rugby player.

“It is a bit disappointing that Catalan didn’t make an effort of engaging with community groups and gay rights groups to try explain why they were doing it and that he would refrain in making similar comments in the future.

“They didn’t really do that and that is where my disappointment comes from.

“As a professional company I think they had the responsibility to reach out to people but they just sort of dropped the bombshell and didn’t give a stuff.

“I have my own issues with what Israel Folau says and does as an individual. My problem is in how Catalan handled it.”

McNamara has defended the decision to sign Folau, saying: “Having spent a lot of time speaking to him and understanding him a lot more and getting reassurances, we made a decision as a club that we would support Israel and give him another opportunity in our game.”

O’Neill has been a massive advocate of supporting gay rights in rugby league since the consortium, led by his father Mick, took control at Keighley.

Cougars hosted the first Pride event last July with the likes of Wigan Warriors following in the club’s footsteps by creating their own day to try increase community cohesion in the sport.

O’Neill is keen to continue his promotion of Pride in the future and has been pleased with the reception he and Garcia have received from the rugby league family since taking ownership.

He said: “We are going to have one (Pride event) this year which will be a bit bigger and bolder.

“We have earmarked a particular date for it but we can’t announce it yet.

“Everyone in rugby league is running a Pride event so we have got to be on our game.

“It is good that we will be remembered as starting that trend and everyone seems to be very positive and it is changing attitudes which I am pleased about.”

“We want to be the pioneer in everything in this regard.”

“It (O’Neill and Garcia’s arrival) has been surprisingly uncontroversial. We could have had more difficulty than tradition club owners.

“It has been positive and we have been embraced, with people changing their attitudes towards what gay people are like.

“We live in London, not Keighley, so we thought we might have a bit of difficulty with us Londoners coming up and bringing their gay way and all the rest of it but we have had a really positive response.”

Speaking about matters on the field, O’Neill outlined his lofty aims for Cougars.

He said: “We have got huge ambition. There is no reason that you enter a sports club if you don’t want to reach the top.

“Our ambition is to get up there as quick as possible. Funds are limited being in league one but as we get bigger crowds and more sponsors we get that momentum to try reach the top.”