Noriyuki Haga will return to the MCE Insurance British Superbike championship after signing to race for Paul Bird Motorsport.

The former WSBK star will partner defending champion 'Shakey' Byrne on board a Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki ZX-10R for all three Showdown rounds, starting at Assen this weekend.

"I have always admired Nori throughout his career and it's fair to say he's one of my heroes so I'm delighted to have the chance to work with him," said team owner Paul Bird.

"He's proven throughout his career that he's a great rider and showed at the tracks he knew last year that he could still be very competitive.

"He was on pole position at Assen last year and rode a couple of brilliant races so despite not doing a lot of racing this year, he'll be very strong. He loves all three Showdown tracks and if he can also help Shakey's bid for the title, all well and good."

Haga won 43 races in a distinguished WSBK career before racing in BSB with Swan Yamaha last season and, despite a broken collarbone at Cadwell Park, bounced back late in the campaign to claim eighth in the final standings.

Earlier this season, 'Nitro Nori' took third place at the prestigious Suzuka Eight Hours, alongside former 500cc World champion Kevin Schwantz and Yukio Kagayama, and also made a one-off appearance for Grillini BMW at the Imola WSBK round.

Haga will get his first taste of the Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki in a test at Snetterton en route to Assen later this week. Rookie Keith Farmer has been riding alongside Byrne this season. A PBM statement made no mention of Farmer's future, but it is assumed he has been replaced by Haga and will sit out the rest of the season.

Byrne starts the Showdown phase with a six-point lead over Alex Lowes.