BULLS fans might not like to hear it, but the Cougars are coming.

Cougarmania burned bright in the mid 1990s, as players like Daryl Powell, under the ownership of the now-returned Mick O'Neill, led Keighley to the Second Division Championship title.

But with the newly formed Super League on the horizon, Cougars were denied promotion at the expense of London Broncos, who only finished fourth.

It broke O'Neill, who told the T&A on the 25th anniversary of the 1995 Second Division Premiership final: “I think it was the biggest travesty in sport, it should never have happened to us.

“It was unjust, Batley came second and should have gone up with us. We fought it together but they backed out as they thought they were fighting a losing battle, whereas I thought we might still pull it off.

“(After missing out) I was heartbroken and felt wrecked that so much effort had gone to waste, so I decided to leave the club and go back to live in Australia.

“We had a great team at Cougars then and I think we could have been in the top four or five of Super League.

“The fans were brilliant, at a time for rugby league where crowds for a lot of run of the mill clubs were dwindling, we would sometimes take 3,000 or 4,000 to away matches.

“It was scandalous that we were denied and it still gets me emotional now. Even after all these years, I’ve never got over it.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Mick O'Neill came back to Cougars in 2019, almost 25 years after his side missed out on Super League in controversial circumstances.Mick O'Neill came back to Cougars in 2019, almost 25 years after his side missed out on Super League in controversial circumstances.

To this day, Cougars have never reached Super League, and while they were stuck in the relative doldrums, Bulls were flying high for a good decade.

Four Super League titles arrived, in 1997, 2001, 2003 and 2005, as did two Challenge Cups, in 2000 and 2003, and three World Cup Challenge triumphs, in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

Even when Bulls' finances and fortunes dwindled, they remained a Super League side until 2014.

Cougars had it tough during Bulls' glory decade, with several financial crises occurring under controversial new owner Carl Metcalfe, who was even jailed in 2002 for producing and selling fake ecstasy tablets.

They were dissolved into liquidation in 2001 and went into administration due to unpaid taxes in 2009.

Four years ago, Cougars had £34 in the club accounts and were hours from going bust.

Then, a takeover by Austria Holdings was mired in mystery and controversy, with allegations that bills and wages to players and staff had been unpaid or partly unpaid for six months.

There have been odd moments of light on the field, like earning promotion to National League One in 2003 and winning the iPro Sport Cup in 2016, but they have been few and far between.

And yet with O'Neill now back in charge, the future looks as bright as it has in the last 25 years.

With big names like Jake Webster and Dane Chisholm in the playing squad, try-scoring machines like Charlie Graham and Mo Agoro, and the knowledgeable Andrew Henderson as head of rugby, Cougars look to be romping to the League 1 title, after 13 wins from 13 so far.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Dane Chisholm is proving to be an inspiration for Cougars. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.Dane Chisholm is proving to be an inspiration for Cougars. Picture: Jonny Tomes-Green.

Co-owner Ryan O'Neill, Mick's son, told the Keighley News a few weeks ago that Cougars had "thrown the kitchen sink at getting promotion" and it seems like that aggressive recruitment strategy is going to pay off.

But what of Bulls? There were angry scenes last Friday as Bulls crumbled to a woeful 53-10 defeat at lowly Newcastle, which leaves them seventh and five points off the play-offs.

Fans tried to confront Nigel Wood after the game over what they perceive to be a lack of direction and progress at the club.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Nigel Wood was confronted by frustrated Bulls fans last Friday.Nigel Wood was confronted by frustrated Bulls fans last Friday.

Wood hit back on Sunday night after being accused of disrespecting supporters, calling that "a complete and utter fabrication".

But he also reiterated that, from a financial perspective, Bulls' long-term objective is "to make the club a sustainable proposition in Bradford".

Club CEO Jason Hirst confirmed at a supporter liaison meeting that Bulls have lost central funding of £100k and are trying to fill that shortfall while still maintaining a youth set-up.

And he also clarified that Bulls are unwilling to commit to a playing budget for next season until they discover what their central distribution funding will be.

Hirst insisted that Bulls would never accept coasting along as many fans have accused them of, but he also conceded that "Leigh and Featherstone are spending heavily and are where they are expected to be".

And all this suggests it could be a while before Bulls have a proper chance of reaching the promised land of Super League again.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Jason Hirst laid out the reality of Bulls' finances at a supporter liaison meeting.Jason Hirst laid out the reality of Bulls' finances at a supporter liaison meeting.

With Cougars set to join Bulls in the second tier next season, and both looking to get in the best position ahead of the planned rugby league restructure for 2024 and beyond, we could finally be set for a real battle for supremacy in the Bradford District.

And if this season is anything to go by, don't be too shocked if Keighley come out on top.