Leeds pay touching tribute to Rob Burrow with victory against Leigh

leeds pay touching tribute to rob burrow with victory against leigh

A fan holds a tribute to Rob Burrow, who passed away at the age of 41 following a four-and-a-half-year battle with motor neurone disease. Photograph: Ed Sykes/Getty Images

There has arguably never been a night when the outcome of a rugby league match has felt so insignificant but here, on a night fizzing with more emotion than one could have ever envisaged, Leeds Rhinos put on a show both on and off the field that Rob Burrow would have been immensely proud of.

Burrow never was one for the ­limelight, as his close friend and former teammate, Danny McGuire, admitted to the Guardian pre-match. “He’d be a bit embarrassed by all this, I think, but he’d love the legacy a night like this has created,” McGuire said. Yes, there was a game of Super League to be played here but it was categorically the backdrop to a night celebrating the life of Burrow.

McGuire was one of around 80 former teammates of Burrow’s who were invited guests to the evening, spanning the entire length of his 16-year professional career. Together, they stood side-by-side on the field ­pre-match as the biggest Headingley crowd for a standalone Super League game in almost a ­decade ­impeccably observed a minute’s silence for Burrow.

His service to Leeds as a player was matched, if not surpassed, by the work Burrow did in raising ­awareness and funds to support those ­living with motor neurone disease since his own diagnosis in December 2019. Leeds made a pledge to Burrow that would continue after his tragic passing and this night, their annual MND ­awareness match, epitomised that.

The Rhinos wore a special shirt commissioned in MND-themed ­colours that will raise tens of ­thousands of pounds and Burrow’s father, Geoff, paid an emotional ­tribute to his son on the field pre-match. The whole Burrow family, including his wife, Lindsey, were also here – they will continue that legacy, which Burrow showed such bravery in the face of adversity to launch.

It was difficult not to be moved by the whole occasion, with many in attendance reduced to tears ­during the tributes. You wondered how Leeds’s players, who saw their coach, Rohan Smith, sacked on Wednesday and many of whom knew Burrow ­personally, would cope with it all. The answer? In a way befitting a player who won every honour ­possible ­during his Leeds career.

Arguably the most fitting moment of them all came in the 50th minute here when, with Leeds leading 12-0, their third try came via the man who wears the No 7 shirt Burrow ­represented with such pride. Matt Frawley has had an inauspicious start to his Leeds career since joining from the NRL but you wonder if this could be a springboard for his fortunes.

That try made it 18-0 and despite a late Leigh Leopards fightback, the Rhinos held on to end a tumultuous week on a high. It was never about the result in the end though. This night belonged to one man and one man alone; but the one thing a man who put side before self every time would have craved was a Leeds ­victory – and they delivered when it mattered most.

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