KEIGHLEY Cougars full back Ritchie Hawkyard admits he is “a bit gutted” to be leaving the club at the end of next month, but says he accepts that head coach Rhys Lovegrove wants to put his own stamp on the team.

Cougars are letting eight players go once their contracts expire on November 30, including club stalwarts Hawkyard, Benn Hardcastle and Matthew Bailey.

The others are Macauley Hallett, Will Cooke, Lewis Wray, Louis Sheriff and Steven Hayes.

Matt Welham will also be departing, after the club and player mutually agreed to terminate the final year of his contract due to a change in personal circumstances.

Poor Hawkyard only returned for his second spell at the club last October, but a lack of match fitness and the coronavirus pandemic meant he hardly played in 2020.

Talking about a disappointing end to his time with Cougars, Hawkyard said: “I’m a bit gutted to be going but that’s rugby.

“I wanted to stay but Rhys didn’t offer me a contract. There’s no hard feelings though.

“They’re spending money, him and (chairman) Mick O’Neill, and bringing names like QLT (Quentin Laulu-Togaga'e) in. Good luck to them.

“I know Rhys wants to implement his own style on the team too and maybe that was something that wasn’t suited to me.”

Aside from this disappointment, Hawkyard is feeling content with his health and life, saying: “The break’s done me good.

“I decided to stop playing rugby originally because of my back and hamstrings and I was worried that I might start this season and not be able to finish it, but my body feels good after this break we’ve had.”

He added: “I’m not running around asking for clubs to take me on, but now Keighley have sent me a letter confirming my contract won’t be renewed, I’ll get put on an RFL list, where clubs can see who’s available.

“So if any club’s needing a full back of around my ability, then I’d be happy for them to give me a bell.

“But I’m happy at the minute anyway. I’ve been spending time with my family, doing a bit of scotching and coaching down at my local amateur club Newsome Panthers.”

Another thing that has made Hawkyard happy is the well-wishes from fans after his departure was confirmed last week.

They are also a key part of his all-time favourite Cougars memory.

Hawkyard said: “My favourite moment at Keighley was probably when we won the iPro Cup in Blackpool in 2016.

“It was the only silverware we won during my time there but it wasn’t just that. It was the whole trip down to Blackpool, looking over to the coachloads of fans we brought down there at the end of the game and mingling with them afterwards.

“I’ve always had a good relationship with the fans and it was one of the reasons, aside from trying to get the club back up to the Championship, why I came back last year.

“The Cougars fans always treat you well, even if you’ve moved on to another club.

“The messages I’ve received from some of the fans after they found out I wouldn’t be staying for 2021 have been really humbling and satisfying.”

Unlike Hawkyard, Billy Gaylor is staying. The young utility player signed a new one year deal with the club on Tuesday.

Terms have been offered to Jack Arnold, Josh Lynam and Kieran Moran, with announcements on their futures set to come soon.

Everyone else that was already at the club, including former Bulls and Castleford star Jake Webster, is staying, while the club have made five new signings in the close season.

Cougars legend James Feather has been retained by the club too, where he will enjoy a new role as a player-coach.