Leeds Rhinos: Rovers tie has special resonance for Burrow

Rob Burrow.
Rob Burrow.
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AS A seven-time Grand Final winner, Rob Burrow has achieved almost everything possible in his Leeds Rhinos career, but he has never played against his second-favourite team.

Burrow will put that right tomorrow when Rhinos begin their First Utility Qualifiers campaign away to Featherstone Rovers.

The clubs have been poles apart since Burrow made his Rhinos debut in 2001, but Rovers’ surprise climb into the top four of the Kingstone Press Championship and Leeds’ plunge from top to ninth in Super League means he will finally get to play at Post Office Road in a competitive game.

“I am from Castleford, but I played all my junior rugby at Featherstone, for Travellers Saints, who became Featherstone Lions,” Burrow said.

“If there ever was a second team for me, it would be Featherstone.

“Leeds has always been my team, but I like Featherstone because they were where I played as a junior.

“I have got big raps on the club, it is a real rugby league town and I am chuffed they are in the hunt for a Super League place, just not when they play Leeds this week.”

While Super League’s bottom four are in a battle against relegation, the leading quartet from the Championship have the top-flight in their sights.

The top three after seven games will play in Super League next year, with the final place going to the winner of a sudden-death million pound game between the fourth and fifth-placed sides.

Rhinos are the top-ranked team in the new competition, after a late surge in the regular season, but Burrow stressed: “We know we need to be good.

“We are all totally aware of how good the four teams from the Championship are.

“A few years ago you could probably play not really well and still get a win, but that’s not the case now. The top four or five in the Championship are probably good enough to play in Super League so we are treating it like we did last year.

“We have got to keep improving every game and it starts this week.”

Burrow added: “A lot of our players have never played at their ground. It is a bit different because of the slope and we know it is going to be tough.

“It is a real challenge, but it is different and it’s exciting.”

Tomorrow will be the first time since 1903 Leeds have played outside rugby league’s top tier.

Five wins from their final six games in the regular season lifted Leeds off the bottom of the table and Burrow said: “Compare our form to anybody in Super League and it will be up near the top, if not at the top.

“We were always going to get better. We’ve done it too late, it has been a real downer of a year compared to last year, but the mood is great.

“It has been all season and we’re looking forward to a new challenge.”

Rhinos academy take on Wakefield Wildcats at Belle Vue tomorrow (11am), giving fans time to attend both games.