Six Again: Great Rob Burrow moments

How could we begin a tribute to the legendary Rob Burrow in any other way than looking back at six of his greatest moments and achievements? With so much success in his playing career and beyond, it was tough for us to pick just six. We know many of you are still feeling the sadness at losing one of the game’s greats, but hopefully some of these memories will put a smile on your face, just like the one that was always on Rob’s.

First Super League title

2004 was the start of something special at Leeds Rhinos, and Rob was very much at the heart of that. With a squad of young, homegrown talent – including Richie Mathers, Chev Walker, Danny McGuire and Ryan Bailey, who Rob had played with since his days as a teenager – at its core, Leeds ran out 16-8 winners against Bradford Bulls in the Super League Grand Final to secure the club’s first Championship since 1972. That victory kick started a period of dominance for the Headingley club, with their next piece of silverware following on just months later, when Rob was among the try scorers as the Rhinos claimed the World Club Challenge with a 39-32 victory over NRL Premiers Canterbury Bulldogs.

Taking down the Kiwis

As well as his 13 England caps, Rob also featured five times for Great Britain. Three of those appearances came in the 3-0 Baskerville Shield series success against New Zealand in 2007. Rob’s performances across those three tests, which saw him score two tries and nine goals, earned him the George Smith medal for Man of the Series as well as the praise of Lions coach Tony Smith, who said after the series: “Rob Burrow has been outstanding. He has stepped up to show he is an international halfback.” It was perhaps his best experience on the international front having made two World Cup semi-finals with England that both ended in heartbreaking defeats to the Kiwis.

The greatest Grand Final try

The 2011 Super League Grand Final was perhaps Rob’s greatest moment. Not only did he come off the bench to score the try that is now considered the greatest try in Grand Final history, where he stepped of his left foot, ducked under the arms of would be St Helens tacklers, left Paul Wellens floundering and won the race to the line, but he also became the first substitute in the Super League era to win the Harry Sunderland award for Man of the Match. It was the second time he’d taken that individual honour – after also claiming it in 2007 – and did so in style, gaining a vote from all 37 members of the media in attendance – the first time the award had been a unanimous result.

The final curtain

Rob announced his decision to hang up his boots and step into a coaching role at Leeds during the 2017 season, but still had time for one final triumph. He had already achieved everything there was to achieve in the game, but made sure he went out on a high. Having reached yet another Grand Final at the end of that season, the Rhinos went in as underdogs against a Castleford Tigers team that had blown them away on multiple occasions already. But Leeds did what they had done so often before and rose to the occasion and cruised to a 24-6 victory. Rob, alongside captain Danny Maguire who was also retiring, lifted the trophy to bring the curtain down on a quite magnificent career.

Headingley’s show of support

As soon as Rob announced his MND diagnosis, the rugby league community came together in a show of support for one of their greatest stars. And that was never more evident than on January 12, 2020 when fans from across the game turned out to support his fundraising efforts in a pre-season match against Bradford Bulls that doubled up as Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s testimonial. Sky Sports broadcast the game live, a host of the pair’s former teammates pulled their boots on once again for the latter stages of it, and when Rob himself entered the field with five minutes remaining, a packed out, and emotionally charged Headingley Stadium gave him a fully deserved standing ovation.

Ultimate show of friendship

Throughout many of Kevin Sinfield’s gruelling challenges to raise funds and awareness for MND charities, he’s often spoken about ‘going for a run for a mate’ and, over the last couple of years, the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon has become known for being about friendship. Who could forget the ultimate show of friendship in 2023 when, after pushing Rob the entire 26 mile route in a specially adapted wheelchair, Kevin lifted Rob out of the chair and carried his best mate and former team mate over the finish line while also planting a kiss on Rob’s cheek. It is perhaps one of the most enduring images of Rob’s fight against the cruel disease, and one that will never be forgotten.

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

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