Page XIII: Rob Burrow will never be forgotten

SUNDAY, 2nd June is a day I’ll never forget, and I suspect that is the same for many other rugby league fans across the country, if not the world.

That day we got the news we all knew would come one day, but wished wouldn’t.

“It is with deep sadness that the club can confirm that former player Rob Burrow CBE has passed away, aged 41”, read the first line of the press release that dropped into my inbox just after 6pm that evening.

We were sat in the LPL office putting that week’s issue of League Express together (which did require some obvious late amendments) and from that moment on we virtually all sat in silence, holding back tears and reflecting on our own memories of Rob.

Rob’s impact on the field was unquestionable, but very few players have gone on to make such an impact off it after they have retired in the way that Rob did. And perhaps it will eventually be his work in raising awareness of motor neurone disease that will be remembered with even greater distinction than his efforts in the blue and amber of Leeds Rhinos.

He may not have seen the final fruits of his labour when it came to his hopes of finding a cure for this cruellest of diseases, but with his family and best mate Kevin Sinfield vowing to keep his legacy going, I am sure one day, future generations will benefit from his work.

That work started the day after his death when ground was broken on the specialist MND centre being built in Leeds that will bear his name. That event clearly took on more poignancy after the event of less than 24 hours earlier, as did Finals day at Wembley the following weekend.

The first games played since his death offered fans from across the game the chance to pay their respects to one of the game’s greats.

The impeccably observed minute silences ahead of the games, as well as standing ovations during the minutes’ applause in the seventh minute of each game, were emotional moments for all those in the stadium, and no doubt those watching on TV, and goes to proves that Rob was held in the highest regard by all those involved in rugby league. The fact that the minutes applause was replicated in the rugby union Premiership final across the city of London at Twickenham, and days earlier when England football played Bosnia & Herzegovina in a Euros warm-up game, is even more proof, if we ever needed it, that Rob was one of the very few stars of our game that has transcended the sport to become a true national hero.

Leeds and Sky Sports absolutely nailed it as the sport said a very emotional goodbye to Rob when the Rhinos returned to Headingley for the first time since his death. It was somewhat fitting that the game against Leigh Leopards fell on Global MND awareness day, and no doubt helped to raise further funds and awareness of the disease.

The word legend is often overused in sport, but it really is fitting for Rob and I, on behalf of the whole team here at Rugby League World, would like to send our continued support and love to Lindsey, Macy, Maya and Jackson, his parents, sisters and wider family as well as everyone who knew and loved him.

Rob was such a proud family man, and his family have been left rightly proud of him – their hero, our hero. He will never be forgotten.

Finally, I have to finish this column off with an apology to Wigan Warriors.

Last month in my feature with Australian recruit Rease Casey I wrote the line: “Even if they are not yet paying their female players like some others are,” in regards to the club.

I have since been assured by the Warriors that this isn’t the case, with a club spokesman saying: “Wigan Warriors has invested heavily in the women’s programme, including paying players.”

While this might not be as directly as York putting all their players on contracts, I am led to believe that there are numerous packages and benefits in place at the Warriors to reward their players financially for their efforts on the field, so I can only apologise for any confusion caused by this comment in the article.

It will still be some time yet before the women’s game can call itself fully professional, but if more clubs follow suit in offering players financial rewards, it can only further develop the game and get us closer to that ultimate aim.

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 498 (July 2024)

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