Cougars player-coach Paul March will be forced to miss the biggest match in his club’s recent history after being given a two-month stadium ban.

A Rugby Football League operational rule tribunal imposed a two-month suspension on the former Wakefield and Huddersfield player for verbally abusing match officials.

Under the terms of the ban, March is prohibited from entering any stadium in which the Cougars are playing until July 8, which falls after their Tetley’s Challenge Cup quarter-final at Super League club Widnes on Thursday, June 5.

The sanction was handed down after March was found guilty of improper conduct and breaching the game’s respect policy following comments made to the match referee at the end of the Championship defeat by Leigh on March 9.

The offence took place while March was serving a four-match suspension as a player for questioning the integrity of a match official following a league fixture against Doncaster in February.

March, who pleaded not guilty, declined to comment but Keighley chairman Gary Fawcett said his player-coach maintains his innocence and is taking advice from players’ trade union the GMB about an appeal.

“I personally represented Paul at the disciplinary hearing at Red Hall because I believed Paul was innocent of the allegations he faced,” said Fawcett.

“I also took along two witnesses who believed the same. The disciplinary panel decided otherwise and imposed a sanction which is, I believe, without precedent in the history of rugby league for an offence such as this.

“I am shocked at the extent of the ban and so is Paul. The club will stand by Paul and his family during this time and I sincerely hope everyone at the club, and all within rugby league, do likewise.

“I am sure that in the face of adversity – and Keighley Cougars have experienced plenty of adversity over the past 20 years – we will be strong and use this negative as an empowering positive for the rest of the season.”