A debut at top level is always a proud moment for the individual concerned but as the only openly gay player in rugby league’s elite competition, there is a wider significance at play.
Gareth Thomas, the former Wales rugby union captain, played Super League after coming out but in such a macho environment Hirst accepts he will be a rarity.
Hirst’s story is complex. Married at 20 to Sara, with whom he has two children, he wrestled for a long time with his sexuality. He even considered suicide. He eventually came out 18 months ago.
If telling his wife was hard letting his team-mates know at Batley, where he was captain at the time, was no walk in the park either.
His colleagues’ acceptance, and that of his coach John Kear, was a huge source of support. He was also inundated with messages from people trapped in parallel situations as well as celebrities such as Elton John and Stephen Fry commending him on his bravery.
Keegan Hirst will make his Super League debut tomorrow against Leigh
“I can understand why people said that but I think when you are brave you are doing something for someone else and I did it for me,” says Hirst.
With the weight off his shoulders, it was no coincidence that he enjoyed the best season of his career in 2016 and when Kear accepted an offer to move to Wakefield this season he decided to take Hirst with him.
Hirst quit his job as a joiner last October and joined the ranks of the full-timers at the Wildcats.
“The lads have welcomed me with open arms. Obviously they are aware but we all do the same job and there’s not really any egos there – it’s not that kind of club. There’s been no issues at all. It has been a pretty easy transition,” he says.
“It’s just part of the day-to-day craic in the dressing room – like if someone has a bad haircut or has put a bit of weight on. That bit of ribbing is acceptance. It’s not an elephant in the room or something people have to skirt around or be careful of what they say.
John Kear decided to take Hirst to Wakefield with him for this season
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“There is a lot of innuendo – handling balls that sort of thing. Most of it you couldn’t publish!”
His hope – and expectation – is that Super League fans will be equally open-minded.
“I can only go off what I experienced at Batley. I never heard anything even in jest from away fans. Things have got back to me that have been said but I’ve never heard anything myself,” he says.
“Rugby league fans are all of a similar ilk. They are northerners who don’t take themselves too seriously. If there is any banter you usually know if it is meant in jest.
“The Wakefield fans have been nothing but welcoming – as long as you are performing on the field that’s all they are bothered about.”
Hirst’s debut has been delayed by an ankle injury but his big moment of becoming a Super League player will finally arrive tomorrow.
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At 29, he is mature enough to feel comfortable acting as an unofficial spokesman for gay sportsmen but he would rather Super League supporters get to know him as a powerhouse prop forward.
Step one comes tonight against Leigh.
“I suppose to Super League fans I’m not known much but I’ve been in the Championship for 10 years and I’ve played more than 230 games so people in that league will know what I am about,” says Hirst.
“They say it takes 50 games in Super League before you are classed as a Super League player so it may take a while.
“My job is to get on the field and get known as Keegan Hirst the Super League player rather than the gay one from the Championship. It’s a work in progress but I’m sure I will get there.”
Keegan Hirst is fronting a campaign called I-Conquered for www.powwownow.co.uk looking at issues people have overcome on their way to the top.