KEIGHLEY Cougars have long been publicly against IMG's 'Reimagining Rugby League' proposals, but they have now turned their ire on fellow clubs.

Co-owners Ryan O'Neill and Kaue Garcia have had talks with the RFL over the last couple of months to put their concerns over the future plans for the sport across.

But only minor tweaks have been made to the initial plans that were proposed in early March, with Cougars still deeply unhappy with the proposals, which including axing automatic promotion and relegation between the Betfred Super League and Championship from 2024 onwards.

Keighley's worst fears were confirmed when the IMG plan was passed today at a meeting in Huddersfield, with 32 votes in favour, seven opposed (including Keighley, Featherstone and Hunslet) and three abstentions.

Garcia made a last-ditch attempt to persuade clubs to vote with them this morning, giving a remarkable speech to begin the council meeting.

He said: “What we are voting today and what IMG is proposing is not going change the sport. 

“If anyone in this room believes that, you are being blinded by a nice presentation and big words from a company that understands nothing about rugby league and its communities.

“What IMG still fails to demonstrate in this plan is how any of these will bring more attention to the sport.

“Nothing about marketing has been mentioned, nothing about helping clubs on running Foundations and giving them the support they need has been mentioned. 

“They have put financial expectations on clubs, but with no information on how this will bring in more revenues.

“We know nothing about a Sky TV deal, we know nothing about central funding.

“Yet we are expected today to vote in IMG to control this sport, for the next decade, with zero financial benefit coming in.”

Garcia added: “Don’t be fooled by pretty words such as ‘standards’. 

“Standards already exist throughout all leagues of this sport. They have existed for years. If Keighley were to be promoted this season, or Batley did win the Grand Final last season. 

“We know that we would have to reach standards to be allowed up, which at the moment neither ourselves nor Batley would meet. Fair deal, we get that.

“Yet, what IMG masquerades on false promises selling this vision that ‘this will elevate the standard of the sport’ is a lie.

“There is no money on offer to elevate the standards, it is simply a way to allow the elites to sail away and leave the rest of the sport adrift.”

He offered a stark warning about the future, insisting: “If this proposal goes ahead, it will be the death of Championship, League 1 and other heartland clubs. Simple and straightforward. 

“Anyone voting for these measures will be an accomplice to this tragedy and the sport will one day remember your names.

“Fans will be pushed even further away from the sport, and Sky money will reduce over time even further.”

He complained: “We should be sitting in this room talking how the RFL need to build a cutting-edge marketing department, full of talent to promote the sport and get eyeballs on it. 

“How they have signed perhaps an Elton John or Madonna level artist to perform at the Super League Grand Final and Challenge Cup final and recreated the massive success that the Super Bowl gets every year by following this strategy.    

“How everyone should be looking at what (owner) Derek Beaumont is doing at Leigh matches and making an entertaining show for everyone to see and how we should replicate that.

“Yet, none of these are actually mentioned or described in this arrogant plan by IMG.

“So, I ask all of you to put the self-interest of your own club aside, and think: Has this plan and IMG told us how they intend to drive more fans to the sport and make it more interesting by marketing it?

“Or have they said that standards will be raised and miraculously because of that, fans and Sky will be interested in the sport simply because we now give out 1.5 points depending on where you are based?

“This is the main question you must ask yourselves. The answer is simple.

“They have not produced anything that proves this sport will be in a better place with their grading system, so my vote and your vote should be against these proposals.”