RETIRING LEEDS Rhinos legend Rob Burrow is desperate for his playing days not to end the way they started.
Burrow made his first-team debut in an 18-16 home defeat by Hull on April 6, 2001.
Tonight’s Betfred Super League semi-final against the same opposition will be Burrow’s last at Headingley – and the end of his glittering career if Rhinos lose.
The 34-year-old scrum-half/hooker has played in all Rhinos’ seven Grand Final wins and has targeted one last appearance at Old Trafford – a week tomorrow – before hanging up his boots.
He will quit playing at the end of this season to take up a role in Rhinos’ youth development system and coaching the under-19s.
Tonight is also his long-term half-back partner Danny McGuire’s last at Headingley as a Leeds player, before he joins Hull KR next year and demolition of the North Stand is due to begin after the game.
It is set to be an emotional occasion but Burrow is confident he can keep that in check.
“I am not a teary sort of guy or anything like that, but it does mean a lot,” he said
“I have got my daughters coming out with me and I know Danny has got his son coming out.
“It is magical in that sense and I have got some great, great memories of Headingley.
“When it happens it will probably hit me, but, at the moment, it just feels like another game.
“There is a lot going on, as well as us playing our last game there and on the night it will be great, but at the moment I am just focusing on the game and not thinking about anything else.”
Two years ago, Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai bowed out with a Grand Final victory.
Burrow admitted it would be a dream come true to do the same. He added: “We are in a good position and we’ve picked up form which you need to do going into these games.
“You can’t just pick up the odd good performance, which we have done this year. Going and getting a result at Huddersfield last week was a big thing for us because throughout my career if there’s one team I hate playing it’s Huddersfield!
“We have a terrible record against them, so things like that are encouraging. We also performed well at home against Salford, who have been a good team all year.
“We went to Huddersfield and performed well, but all that counts for nothing if we don’t keep backing it up.
“We envision that we’ve got two games left, but we need to perform well against Hull if we want that second game.”
Of Hull, Burrow said: “They got one over us in the Challenge Cup semi-final, which was a big game.
“In the past, we have shown up to big games and usually performed well, but they totally out-performed us on the day.
“We are expecting that sort of effort from them. We have a good record against them in the league, but that counts for nothing.
“This is a completely new competition and it is do-or-die football.”
Burrow said Leeds haven’t focused on the Cup defeat in the build-up to tonight.
“We have moved on,” he said.
“You can’t afford to look back. It was a completely different competition.
“It doesn’t still hurt, we have dealt with that and moved on.
“We are thinking about the Super League side of it now rather than the Challenge Cup.
“That is in the past.”
Whatever happens tonight – and possibly in eight days’ time – Burrow insists he really is reaching the end.
He believes he could play on for at least one more year, but said he has had no second thoughts about the decision to retire.
He will keep himself in shape next year, but does not plan to be registered as a player in case of an injury crisis.
“I can certainly physically do another year, it’s what comes with it mentally and it’s the right decision for me,” he stated.
“I don’t want to go out old and decrepit, I want to go out fully fit and on my terms.
“I am really excited about the next chapter and that is dealing with the young lads here at Leeds and bringing through the next generation.
“I am really keen to do that and it is going to be easy weaning myself off rugby because I am still going to be involved on a day-to-day basis.
“I am not stopping at the end of this year and going into an office job, I don’t think I would be able to do that.
“It will be a lot easier than you think. I will keep fit, I want to keep myself in shape and I suppose after you’ve been competing for so long and challenging yourself, you will miss that, so I will have to see what happens down the line.”
Hull captain Gareth Ellis – who played alongside Burrow and McGuire in Leeds’ 2007 and 2008 Grand Final wins – is in a similar situation.
He will also retire at the end of the year and Burrow said: “He is a great bloke and a Leeds legend.
“I am sure it will be a bit strange for him as well. Hopefully, he is finishing on the losing side, but he is a great player and it is special for the three of us to bow out at Headingley.”