Peter Smith: It’ll be hard to imagine a Leeds Rhinos team without Rob Burrow

Rob Burrow on the way to scoring for Leeds Rhinos in the 2011 Grand Final.
Rob Burrow on the way to scoring for Leeds Rhinos in the 2011 Grand Final.
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ANOTHER WEEK, another era ends.

Just eight days after Danny McGuire confirmed he will leave Leeds Rhinos at the end of this season, his long-time team-mate Rob Burrow announced this will be his final campaign as a player.

Rob Burrow.

Rob Burrow.

Burrow, 34, will hang up his boots after Leeds’ last game of the season, but is to remain at the club in a backroom role.

It is probably just as well he has decided not to take up his option to play on in 2018.

Were he to actually play against McGuire, who will join Hull KR next year, it would probably cause such an upheaval in time and space the entire universe would collapse.

It is hard to imagine a Leeds squad without Burrow, whose achievements match those of McGuire: seven Grand Final triumphs, three World Club titles, three league leaders’ shields and twice a Challenge Cup winner.

Rob Burrow and Danny Maguire take part in a sack race to launch the annual Leeds Children's Day.

Rob Burrow and Danny Maguire take part in a sack race to launch the annual Leeds Children's Day.

Though not born in Leeds, Burrow supported the club as a youngster and has been part of the fabric of the club since making his debut – in Dean Lance’s last game as coach, which highlights how long ago it was – back in 2001.

Despite his small stature, at 5ft 5ins he has been the shortest player in Super League throughout his time in the senior side; Burrow is pound for pound one of the toughest players in the game.

He has taken some heavy punishment over the years and is currently sidelined following shoulder surgery, so it is no surprise he wants to bow out with his health intact.

He has also made the sensible decision to go on his own terms, while still playing well and being a valuable member of the squad.

His departure will, presumably, allow Jordan Lilley – the 20-year-old half-back who recently signed a three-year contract after returning from a loan spell at Bradford Bulls – to gain more game time next season.

But Burrow will be missed. Like McGuire, his achievements rank him in Leeds’ all-time top 10 and, while they might be matched, may never be beaten.

Burrow has been consistently good throughout his career and will be remembered as a top-class, big-game player. His finest hour was the 2011 Grand Final win over St Helens, when – despite starting the game on the bench and not getting on until the 26th minute – he was a unanimous winner of the Harry Sunderland trophy as man of the match.

That was the second time he had won the award, after the 2007 title decider. His Grand Final try seven years ago is Super League’s equivalent of Martin Offiah’s Wembley touchdown for Wigan against Leeds in 1993. Just eight minutes after joining the action he took the ball at first receiver around the halfway mark with a massed defence in front of him.

He stepped, ducked past two initial challenges, hit the accelerator and rounded the full-back, Paul Wellens, for a glorious individual score and one which typified what Burrow’s career has been all about: pace, footwork, determination and an eye for a gap.

That was his only Old Trafford touchdown, but the one he created for Ryan Hall later in the same game was even better. Burrow’s dummy to Francis Meli was a thing of great beauty.

He also won the Harry Sunderland award in 2007 and was Leeds’ player of the year last year. Like McGuire, he has had to reinvent himself, from half-back to hooker and then a bit of both.

Burrow has had to be content with a role as an impact player for much of his recent career. Of his 486 games for Leeds, 124 have been off the bench. There are still few better in the sport and, while often having to wait 50 minutes or more to get on, Burrow’s commitment to Leeds’ cause has never wavered. The joker in the team, Burrow is also a genuinely nice person and will be an outstanding addition to the staff when he joins Rhinos’ player performance department, where he will work alongside another legend of the game in Adrian Morley.

It will be a sad day when he hangs his boots up, but what fantastic memories he will leave behind.