Panel: Kaue Garcia, Ryan O’Neill, Jake Webster, Steve Watkinson, Jy-mel Coleman, James Feather.
The night started with an opening address from Ryan.
Ryan covered the 5 “main rumours” that had been circulating on social media.
- Players Pay/Wages
Ryan stressed that the only issue here was the misunderstanding with some players over the club’s policy to retain a portion of the win bonus, to accumulate into an end-of-season pot, as was the case in the 2022 season.
The clubs’ intention from the beginning of the 2022 season, was that this was a permanent policy, however this was not communicated to new contracted players. Once this issue came to light, it was resolved without issue.
Ryan stressed that the club has never missed players salary payments.
Ryan expressed his frustration that these false rumours cause the club damage, and that he requests that the person who spreads these false rumours for dramatic affect and to cause disruption should stop doing so.
- Rhys Lovegrove
The board were not happy with performances in consideration to the on field spend.
Ryan confirmed it was a very tough call but one he had to make because they are ambitious owners and want to win. This decision was made because we are ambitious and feel where we are now is not good enough.
Ryan set out his respect for Rhys, and considered him a friend and a very talented person. The decision was made because of the time and money that is going into the club, it’s extremely hard to watch games like Batley away (cup) and Toulouse home (league).
Ryan expressed that being 9th place and out of the Cup is just not good enough.
Ryan wishes Rhys well and has confidence that he will find another role in the sport as he is extremely talented.
Ryan expressed a feeling that something wasn’t quite clicking and that while he didn’t want to part ways with Rhys, it is Ryan and his family’s responsibility as a custodian of the Cougars to take care of the club, and the coaches head is always on the line in sport.
Ryan confirmed he had faith in Jy-mel and his coaching team to put things right.
- Jack Miller
Jack Miller asked for his release. Ryan confirmed the club had huge respect for Jack, and had given him a substantial salary increase in the pre-season. Ryan asked Jack to reconsider his request for release, and instead fight for his shirt. Ryan explained that team selection is down to the coaching staff, and the board fully respect and support that.
Jack felt that after the success of 2022 he should be in the starting line-up and felt dispirited as the coaching staff told him to “earn the shirt”. Ryan asked him to stay as there would be opportunities, but Jack affirmed his desire to be released.
Ryan explained his thinking that when someone “turns their head, let them go” – they are looking elsewhere and as a result will have lost their focus for the club. Jack is a great character, and we did not stand in his way.
- Luke Gale
Luke came to Cougars as a bit of a surprise as the books had closed for 2023 and the squad was finalised, however it was too good an opportunity to turn down to have a player the calibre of Luke playing at Keighley.
Ryan expressed his admiration of Luke, as being a genuine man, humble, and approachable. Ryan stated his thoughts that the abuse on social media towards Luke from a variety of RL fans are deeply unfair and not deserved.
Luke’s agent asked for his release, at which point he expressed he had enjoyed his time at Keighley, but he wanted to seize the SL opportunity with Wakefield, there were no bad feelings. Ryan referenced his previous quote; “when someone turns their head, let them go”.
Luke’s wife messaged the following day, saying she would really miss Keighley and thank you for making them feel so welcome at the club.
- Ryan & Kaue’s involvement in Keighley Cougars
The rumour of Ryan and Kaue buying London Broncos is absolutely not true.
The club has no debt and if fans think Ryan and Kaue aren’t the right people for the job, then a trust could be set up and the club can be a community club.
Ryan expressed that if they weren’t committed to the club, why would they have put their necks on the line by taking the tough decision regarding Rhys? That wasn’t a decision by owners who were walking away, it was a decision which underlines their frustrations and ambition. They stressed they are fundamentally passionate about Keighley Cougars.
All the changes that have been made are because the club is on the up, not the down and due to the frustration with recent performances.
The mic was then passed to Kaue to address Frank Levy leaving the club.
Kaue: I appreciate all volunteers who give their time to Keighley Cougars.
Kaue expressed his gratitude for the time and commitment Frank has shown to the club over many years. Kaue advised that there was a difference of opinion and a disagreement regarding a situation. Kaue expressed to Frank that this couldn’t happen as despite being a volunteer, Frank was speaking from a management position, and he needed to respect Kaue’s request. Frank wanted to stick to his position, and Kaue advised that if that was the case then they could no longer work together.
Kaue stressed that Frank will always be welcome at the club and that he appreciated all the time Frank has spent at the club.
The mic was then opened to the floor.
Q: Were the players told not to socialise with fans after the Sheffield home game?
Ryan: Simply, no, under no circumstances would be ask players not to socialise with fans, in fact we encourage the very opposite. Some may have left due to the disappointing loss on the field.
Buster: I also felt a strange atmosphere at the Sheffield game. We will look to implement the players staying at the ground until at least 6pm on a home game day.
Q: What was the players reaction after been told Rhys was leaving?
The boys were upset and obviously fond of Rhys. Rhys addressed the boys before leaving and the players were subdued. Within an hour or so and the players understood they are here for the club not just one person. The players need to be held accountable and step up under whomever is the coach.
We will all miss Rhys, and Rhys will always be a big part of the club.
Q: To Jy-mel, big boots to fill with Rhys going, but how are you feeling and where are we going?
Performances aren’t quite where they should be, and I want to get the most out of the players. My vision aligns with Ryan and Kaue’s to get to the play offs.
Q: To Buster, you said you didn’t want to coach, but how come you have joined the coaching staff?
I am here and I have offered my services for free, to be an extra pair of hands. I played with Jy-mel and offered him my support straight away, which is a benefit of the personal relationship I have with Jy-mel. I have been watching from the stands and have enjoyed my time away, but I love the club and want to help.
Q: To Ryan, while things were patchy on the field, do you think you spent too much time with IMG?
No, the IMG fight was worth fighting. The club will now back the IMG proposals, but our view remains that long term I don’t think the proposed changes will work. We stuck our neck out and we got battered for it, but I am proud we stood by our values. Robert Hicks, head of legal at RFL visited recently and we assured him we will make the best of it – we lost the argument, and we accept that.
My biggest concern is central funding (the Sky contribution each month). For Cougars it is not an essential lifeline, as we are still on League 1 distribution for this season, which is very little, it barely covers the electricity bill. My concern is for those clubs in SL and those in Championship (who were in Championship last season) who receive substantial amounts every month, and without it they would be in difficulties.
Q: To Ryan, where do we stand with reserves and academy set up?
We applied to be allowed a Reserves on Tuesday of this week. Ryan confirmed we have been knocked back before on the Reserves, however now we can apply by way of compliance with IMG proposals. We therefore have asked the RFL to be more flexible so we can progress as a club.
Q: To Steve, what can fans do to help you with your media role?
Feedback. If you enjoy the content, like it, share it. The coaching and playing staff are very open and nothing is off limits. Any feedback, good or bad send it over and we will bridge the gap for fans.
Ryan added that the off-field team was stronger than it has ever been with Steve and Jake in place.
Q: To Steve, was the dual reg partnership ending a shock?
The dual reg relationship we had with Hull KR was fairly informal and built on trust between Rhys and Willie Peters. The relationship ending, was half expected, but KR’s player pool was fairly depleted and KR are making a go of the reserves league, and there was talk of the relationship being pulled 3-4 weeks earlier.
In a positive, it gives Jy-mel and the coaching staff chance to use their own connections and explore other relationships.
Q: To Jake, do you intend to play on, whist carrying out the Director of Rugby role?
In short, I have now retired. The DOR role takes me away from the playing field and the job the club need me to do now is bigger than playing.
Q: To Jake, are there any plans to replace Luke Gale?
Luke Gale was a luxury. He was great for Keighley and the community, and it put the spotlight on us. But it gives Dane Chisholm a chance to step up and control the team. He is an X-Factor. He has every opportunity to step up and take this team forward now and there’s no real reason to replace Luke.
Q: To Steve, are we going to run coaches to away games?
Yes. Dwaine and Sam have kindly offered their time to organise and run the coaches and we are in early stages of arranging the away travel. Sam has a list of intention from fans, and we will confirm details once we have finalised. It’s looking likely the first coach will be on for Barrow.
Q: To Jy-mel, will we have a club captain?
In short, yes. But not right now. Jy-mel said he reviewing which player is the standout leader in the group.
Q: To All, what can fans do to help you?
Jymel: We want to build the connection with the fans again as a collective and we will try and get the family feel back together.
Ryan: Keep turning up, bring a friend and keep coming. The boys can do it on the field, let them build and get the love back.
Q: To Jy-mel, are we looking to bring someone in for the full back role, and how have the lads looked in training this week?
The two sessions this week, are probably the best two we’ve had in a while. The lads have ripped in and there’s another week of prep for the Bradford game. In terms of the full back position, Stevo has been performing well. He is young and has a lot more development in him so there’s no reason to change.
Q: To Jake, will your testimonial match be rearranged?
In fairness, it’s the furthest thing from my mind right now with the job in hand but maybe.
Q: To Buster, how will you temper your itch to put the boots back on.
No, I am here to coach. It’s a no!
Q: To Ryan, what’s the update with the stand?
There is a lot going on behind the scenes in relation to pre-planning reports, surveys etc. There haven’t been any objections to date Provided the planning passes without difficulty, then the last day of the season the stand will start to come down.
Essentially there will be 2 months where no one can come to the ground whilst the demolition takes place. The estimated time to complete is 10-12 months. We will look to build a temporary stand on the East Terrace.
It’s going to be 3 floors and the roof of the new stand will come to the height of the current floodlights so it’s significantly higher and will go as far back as the cricked club fence.