CRAIG Lingard is backing Emmerson Whittel to come back from long-term injury as strong as ever.

The Cougars forward went under the knife last week after suffering serious cruciate knee ligament damage back in July.

It capped a highly frustrating season for the former Bradford Bulls Academy star which had promised much.

The second-rower started last season as one of the stand-out players after signing for Keighley from Gloucestershire All Golds.

But he was sidelined for more than two months with a broken jaw suffered in a brawl during Cougars' controversial Challenge Cup win over amateurs Fryston Warriors.

Then having returned to full fitness, he sustained the cruciate injury which ended his season and puts in doubt his participation next year.

Lingard said: "Realistically you are looking at nine months after your operation before you can play again.

"He might be missing all next season and the best-case scenario is he might be back for the last couple of months of the campaign.

"That’s an outside chance but knowing Emerson and his dedication I wouldn’t put it beyond him."

Whittel confirmed to the Keighley News that the operation had been a success and he hoped to be back in action by next August.

He said: "I had a graft taken from my hamstring which was successful. I feel very sore and bruised at the moment but starting to get some range of movement back when the swelling is controlled so that's a positive."

His injury came after an awkward fall rather than in the tackle. And Lingard can sympathise with Whittel, having suffered the same injury during his playing days in the same innocuous fashion.

The Cougars chief said: "I did mine virtually the same as how Emmerson did his.

"It was really frustrating. If you get an injury in contact you can sort of understand why you are getting it but when there is no one around you and it is just the way that you have fallen it is more annoying."

Former full back Lingard, who played over 200 games for Batley Bulldogs, was sidelined for ten months when he needed a full knee reconstruction after snapping cruciate and medial ligaments and damaging cartilage.

Lingard added: "It is more mental than anything. Once the knee is repaired it is classed as being as strong as your good one.

"Emmerson has already had a long-term injury and he knows what it takes to come back from one. I am sure he will again.

"You are going to get knocks in the game and just because you get a bad injury, it’s not the be all and end all."

Whittel, who bounced back from a bad Achilles injury earlier in his career, made one senior appearance for Bulls under Jimmy Lowes after graduating through the Odsal Academy, winning an under-19s player of the year award in 2014.

He then played under highly-rated coach Lee Greenwood at Gloucester, making 46 appearances before joining Keighley.

He made an immediate impact on joining Cougars before his injuries struck.

Lingard said: "I feel for him. He came up to us from Gloucester when we’d pretty much sorted our squad out.

"We weren’t particularly looking for anyone else but he came to us on a bit of chance and, based on the performances he put in at the start of the season, he was probably our best player.

"Then he suffered the injury against Fryston and he was just getting back to how he was playing at the start of the season when he got the cruciate injury."

Cougars have kept faith in Whittel with the recent reward of a two-year contract, ensuring the player can rehabilitate with the club's help next season.