KEIGHLEY Cougars have announce the signing of Italian captain Brenden Santi on a one-year deal from fellow Betfred League One side Newcastle Thunder.

The capture of the former Wests Tigers player sees both size and experience added to the Keighley forward pack.

Head coach Rhys Lovegrove is delighted to secure the services of another of his top targets.

“Brenden signing adds top level experience to the squad having played in the NRL,” said Lovegrove.

“He has already shown that top level experience in the last couple of years playing with Toulouse and Newcastle.

“I’m really excited about the leadership qualities he will bring to the club both on and off the field, and also excited to see him progress now in the next stage of his career with us at Keighley.”

Cougars chairman Mick O’Neill added: “It’s great to have another international player at the club with Brenden.

“He will be representing Italy in the World Cup at the end of the year.

"It shows how well we are doing as a club that we’re making a mark by continuing to move forward and signing top players such as Brenden.

“The club have gratefully accepted the assistance of director Mick Loughtman in the signing of Brenden. We much appreciate the part that Mick has played in securing this signing.

“I’m looking forward to now meeting Brenden and the other new signings we have made this off-season.

“I hope that when we get the green light to play again, we will see big crowds at Cougar Park as the squad that Rhys has assembled is one worth seeing.

“I also hope that the fans are happy with the progress we are making both on and off the field moving forward into 2021.

" I’m confident that players will contribute and play their part when they’re allowed to get back out and play.”

After playing his junior rugby league in Australia for the Chester Hill Hornets, Santi was signed by the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs before moving onto the Tigers.

During his time in their youth system, Santi established himself as one of the top young players in the game and his form was rewarded throughout his initial stay in Balmain.

In 2011, he was bestowed with one of the sports greatest honours as he captained the Australian Schoolboys side for their tour of New Zealand.

On the back of the successful tour, 2012 would bring more honours for the young forward as he was a key player in the Wests side that won the NRL Under 20’s competition. He claimed the Player’s Player award for New South Wales in the youth Origin series.

Santi’s Italian heritage would see him selected for the national team ahead of their historic 2013 Rugby League World Cup campaign.

He played all three of Italy’s games in the tournament on the back of featuring in their shock friendly victory over England prior to the competition.

He then moved onto the Parramatta Eels ahead of the 2014 season, but would re-join the Wests Tigers halfway through that year and make 11 appearances for the club over the next 18 months. He was not re-signed following the conclusion of the 2015 campaign.

Santi spent the next three years playing in the Queensland and New South Wales Cup competitions for the Townsville Blackhawks and Wyong Roos but would continue to feature on the global stage for Italy in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

Ahead of the 2019 season, the forward made the decision to head to France and join Toulouse Olympique in the Championship.

He helped the French outfit make the play-offs, where they were defeated in the semi-finals by Featherstone Rovers, before moving across the channel to join up with the Newcastle Thunder for the COVID-19 impacted 2020 season.

Making his debut in the Thunder’s Challenge Cup win over the Cougars in February, Santi was an ever-present prior to lockdown and has now made the decision to make the move to Cougar Park for the 2021 campaign.

Santi said: “I’m really happy to be on board with the Keighley Cougars.

“I’m excited by the vision of the club and I’m looking forward to the season ahead.

“The club have recruited really well for the coming year and I think we’ll be a real threat.”