‘I was unsure if I’d be able to play again’: Brandon Pickersgill revitalised at Keighley Cougars

Brandon Pickersgill is aiming to get his injury-disrupted career back on track at Keighley as well as helping the Cougars get back to the Championship.

SEPTEMBER 5th, 2021. A date that, no doubt, Brandon Pickersgill will remember for a long time, even if he did try to forget. 

On that day, Pickersgill featured for Bradford Bulls in their Championship clash against Toulouse, but his afternoon ended prematurely in concerning fashion, as he was stretchered from the field and taken to hospital.

The diagnosis was a fractured back in two different places for the fullback, who is now into the early stages of his first season at Keighley Cougars.

“When I got the diagnosis, I was unsure if I’d be able to play again because I’d never heard of that happening to a player,” he told Rugby League world.

“It was quite scary at the time and then when you do come back, you’re a bit more open to that side of the game, knowing that there are injuries and that you’ve got to look after yourself. I’ve got a family now as well, so they’ve got to come first. 

“I was off work for around six weeks. No human being wants to be sat at home, immobile, especially compared to what I was doing before where I was up and out every day, busy training and working. 

“It kind of just makes you realise that there is more to life than rugby. I was lucky that I got sick pay, or I would have had no income as well. 

“Big injuries like that are something no player wants but it’s just part of the journey and part of being a rugby league player, knowing you’re going to get injuries. You have to remain positive and try to come out the other side.”

Now enjoying regular rugby at Cougar Park, Pickersgill joined the League One outfit from fellow West Yorkshire side Halifax, having been unable to nail down a consistent spot after swapping Fev for Fax in the middle of last campaign.

One highlight from his short stint at Halifax, and indeed his career to date, was lifting the 1895 Cup following a 12-10 win over Batley at Wembley.

“It’s a funny one because, in the moment, you don’t realise just how important days like that are and you don’t get many in rugby. I’ve been playing eight or nine years now and the thing you realise is that the main years you remember are the ones where you win something, or where you achieve something special.

“Winning at Wembley with all my family down there watching was a massive day, one of the best of my rugby career. It was just so special. 

“I’ve had a bit of adversity, my career has not gone exactly how I wanted it to over the past two years, but it was great to be able to play at Wembley and win.

“They’re a top Championship club that do things the right way. They’ve got a great set of lads, good coaching staff and great fans. I really enjoyed my time there but it was just on the rugby side where things didn’t go as I’d wanted them to.”

Fast forward to November, three months on from that memorable day in the capital and, once again frustrated by a lack of gametime, Pickersgill made the decision to drop down a division with Keighley. 

“I felt I could’ve added more value to the team when I was there. Hence, when Keighley did come in with an offer, I felt that I would be of more value and probably more pivotal in that sense.

“When you’re not playing every week, you can become frustrated with the game and not enjoy it. Going to Keighley has been a breath of fresh air for me.

“This is the best I’ve felt in ages, in terms of playing rugby with a smile on my face. I’m only a few months into my deal but I’m really enjoying it, and long may it continue because I don’t want to be a player that keeps moving about.  

“As I said when I signed, I wanted to find a home and it definitely feels like home at the minute. 

“The lads have made me feel welcome and have brought me into their group. I can be myself when I’m there, I can put my ideas forward in terms of how we play. I just feel comfortable, and I feel like they’re going to get the best out of me.”

In the hope of truly making Cougar Park his home, Pickersgill signed a three-year deal with Matt Foster’s side.

Having largely plied his trade in the Championship prior to 2024, promotion is undoubtedly the main goal for year one as he looks to put the injury and team selection frustrations of recent times behind him.

“The past few years have not been ideal for me in terms of injuries and nailing down a spot to play consistently in a team. When the injuries are coming and you’re not playing or you’re in and out of the team, it is frustrating and you are thinking, is there any point? 

“I don’t regret anything in terms of where I’ve signed or things like that but ultimately, it’s not gone as well as I wanted it to, rugby-wise.

“Keighley came in and said, we want you for the long run and we think you’ll play your best rugby for us when you’re comfortable and enjoying it. I’m just happy to be playing regularly again now I can concentrate on paying them back for the faith they’ve put in me.

“I wanted to play in the Championship, and I still want to play in the Championship, and test myself every week there. 

“Keighley laid it out to me and said that they don’t want to be in League One and that they thought I could help get them back to the Championship.

“That was a big sell for me. It’s going to be a journey if we get there and, if we don’t, then I’m sure we’ll learn a lot as a club.”

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 497 (June 2024)

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