KEIGHLEY Cougars have issued a statement following the demise of fellow League 1 side Newcastle Thunder, in which co-owner Ryan O’Neill calls the competition’s third tier “unsustainable”.

With Newcastle joining London Skolars in going out of business, there are set to be just eight teams in League 1 next season, as clubs with largely limited budgets travel are expected to travel far and wide, given the league contains the likes of Midlands Hurricanes, North Wales Crusaders and Cornwall.

Cougars, like Hunslet, support the idea of a conferenced system, which would offer a merged Championship and League 1 competition.

But O’Neill backs up Hunslet’s claims that the idea was unsupported by a number of Championship clubs.

As it stands, Cougars, Hunslet and the other six League 1 teams are set for emergency talks with the RFL, to see where their division stands for 2024.

O’Neill told the club website: “First of all I would like to send my regards to all players, directors, supports, staff and sponsors  at Newcastle Thunder.

“The news that Newcastle will no longer compete in League 1 is nothing short of a tragedy following, so soon after London Skolars announced their withdrawal from the competition.

“Now I, as well as I am sure our supporters, am asking ‘what next?’

“If there was ever a time for unity in a professional sport, where the governing body have pulled in a global sports, events and talent management company to look after the sport of rugby league, it is now.”

However, O’Neill highlighted a difference in opinion, saying: “Unfortunately, at last week’s Championship and League 1 meeting, a number of Championship clubs made it clear that they had no interest in a conferenced competition.

“We understand protectionism, but the simple fact is League 1 is now unsustainable. I would say this even if we had survived in the Championship this year.

“With a conferenced competition, all clubs benefit. 

“We saw amazing attendances at Cougar Park this year and we must thank our loyal supporters for sticking with us through this turbulent year but also in part thank the supporters of teams such as York, Halifax, Barrow and Bradford, who brought with them their passionate fanbase.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: An impressive crowd watched Keighley stun Bulls at Cougar Park in March.An impressive crowd watched Keighley stun Bulls at Cougar Park in March. (Image: JT Sports Media.)

“I will reiterate we are not against expansion and our well-documented resistance to IMG shows that.

“I think at one point (fellow co-owner) Kaue (Garcia) suggested smaller conferenced competitions in local areas and he was laughed at and mocked on Twitter.

“But just six months on from that, League 1 has diminished into an eight-team competition.

“At this point in the year we would be selling season tickets, but as of today, we can’t because we don’t know exactly what the structure will look like.

“We’re also in the midst of a commercial drive but we can’t guarantee how many times we will play at home.

“We want to grow our business and IMG want us to increase non-centralised turnover.”

He concluded: “On what is the sport’s biggest weekend (Super League Grand Final and Million Pound Game) we are still in disarray.

“We need the RFL, clubs and ‘The Rugby League Family’ to come together and do what is right for the sport and support a conferenced competition.”