Keegan Hirst’s Rugby League return hits RFL roadblock

Keegan Hirst may be unable to return to Rugby League with Batley Bulldogs this season because of an RFL registration rule.

Hirst, the first Rugby League player to come out publicly as gay while playing in the English game, announced on Monday that he was coming out of retirement and returning to Championship side Batley.

The 34-year-old forward has been training with the club in recent weeks, initially with a view to returning next season before deciding to play sooner.

Hirst was not registered before this season’s deadline but Batley believed they would still be able to do so due to the length of time since he last played, for Halifax Panthers in early 2020.

However, when they put him in their 21-man squad to play Sheffield Eagles on Wednesday, they discovered that the RFL’s rules state a player must not have played for any other club in the previous three years.

The Bulldogs are attempting to find a way around the rule but it appears likely Hirst will have to wait until the 2023 season to play again.

“We thought if you hadn’t played for anyone in the past season, you could still register. But for some reason, it’s three years,” said Batley head coach Craig Lingard.

“I don’t understand the reasoning. I could register myself and play. I could register Joe Bloggs off the street to play. But I can’t register a player who hasn’t played in two-and-a-half years.

“We could have registered him before that deadline if we knew that was the rule, but we weren’t planning on registering him because he’d expressed an interest at coming back next season. We weren’t anticipating he would be ready to play this year.”