KEIGHLEY Cougars are back on the rugby league map after picking up a prestigious national prize, according to chairman Mick O'Neill.

The club have been named the Rugby Football League's (RFL) Betfred League One club of the year.

The Cougar Park club picked up the prestigious prize at the sport's governing body's awards ceremony, held in Manchester.

The RFL described Cougars as creative and energetic. The club held a number of themed matchdays this year including a Pride day where the players wore a rainbow-coloured kit and a pink-coloured kit for cancer awareness charities.

O'Neill and co, who were behind the original Cougarmania era of the 1990s, returned to the club in January this year after taking over from previous owners Austria Holdings. The club were also docked 12 points for a change of ownership, finishing the League One season second-from-bottom.

But the Cougars chairman says the club has re-connected with the fans and wider Keighley public, building bridges and updating the facilities at the ground including the bar and corporate area.

O'Neill said: "I can't believe it. It was fabulous, I didn't expect to win it at all. I got there and it was the biggest surprise of my life.

"It has put us back on the map without a doubt.

"I couldn't believe the congratulations we were getting. We finished second-from-bottom in the league.

"It was a nice gesture. People came up to us at the awards ceremony.

"It was totally unexpected. I never even thought about it.

"I don't think we won a trophy like this in the 90s. It's a nice trophy to be celebrated. It's great.

"It's deserved for all of the people who help, volunteers and the players. We are a club that's progressing.

"We have put a lot of effort into the place. It was what we did off the field that has won us the award.

"The place was an absolute dump when we got there.

"It's been a pleasing first six months. We have had as much work to do now as we had in the 90s. The club was a bit of a wreck. It's like a re-incarnation doing it all again."

The trophy was on show at the club's awards night held at Cougar Park on Saturday.

Cougars were in turmoil for six months until O'Neill's consortium moved in since the takeover by Austria Holdings, with non payment of staff and players wages and the club placed into special measures.

The club's directors who share a 90 per cent stake in Cougars are O'Neill's son Ryan and his husband, Kaue Garcia. They were joined by Mike Loughtman, who was born in Keighley but has lived in Australia for more than 60 years, Mike Smith, co-director from the Cougarmania era, and former Cougars company secretary Tim Wood.

The remaining 10 per cent of shares will be given to Cougars supporters

O'Neill says further work is progressing during the close season at Cougar Park, with the revamp of the players' gym at the ground close to completion.

He added: "We are on the way. We need to get the team moving now and get more people down. It's onwards and upwards. We're moving forward. Everything is exciting."

O'Neill will stay in Keighley working on preparations for next season until he goes back to his home in Queensland, Australia, and will return to the UK in January for the 2020 campaign.

Meanwhile, other winners at the RFL ceremony included Nick Newman, of Newcastle Thunder, who was named Betfred League One Player of the Year.

Whitehaven’s Gary Charlton was named Betfred League One Coach of the Year accolade.

Whitehaven won 15 of their 20 games to pip Oldham Roughyeds to the title with a win at Coventry Bears on the final day of the regular season.

Steeton AFC, who groundshare with Cougars, tweeted: "Congratulations - To our friends @Cougarmania a great reward for everyone’s efforts in 2019."