Peter Smith: Likeable Leeds Rhinos great Rob Burrow deserves all of our support as he battles MND

THE MOTOR neurone disease afflicting Rob Burrow is devastating for his former teammates, everyone associated with Leeds Rhinos, rugby league as a whole – and most especially his young family.

Friday, 20th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 20th December 2019, 9:02 am

Burrow and wife Lindsey have three children under the age of eight – Macy, Maya and Jackson – and the former scrum-half is about the most loving father and husband it would be possible to meet.

At 37 and just beginning a new role as Rhinos’ reserve team coach, following two seasons heading up the academy, Burrow should be looking forward to a long second career in the sport – and more importantly, to watching his daughters and son grow up.

Motor neurone disease, though, is a horrible, terminal illness, with no known cure. It prevents messages travelling from the brain to the muscles so individuals affected may lose the ability to move, communicate, eat and eventually to breathe.

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Rob Burrow scores the opening try of the 2011 Grand Final

There is no getting away from the fact it is a bleak situation for Burrow and those who love and care for him and the natural reaction to such news is a desire to help, in any way possible.

Fans, not just of Rhinos but across the sport, can do that and already offers of support are flooding in.

Rhinos are in the process of establishing a fund to support Burrow and his family and an internet donation page – www.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/robburrow – is up and running.

By last night, the total had smashed through the £20,000 target and was heading towards £32,000.

Rhinos’ pre-season derby against Bradford Bulls at Emerald Headingley on Sunday, January 12, will now be a benefit game for Burrow as well as his former team-mate Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s testimonial.

A fixture like that would be expected to draw a crowd of around 7,000 – leaving room for another 13,000 in the stands and on the terraces.

A full house would go a long way towards providing some security for Burrow and his family through what will be some difficult times ahead.

Rhinos are also keen for fans to get involved in their own way. Details of how to contribute will be confirmed in January, but anyone interested can email [email protected] and the club will respond next month.

In some ways, as he admits, Burrow is in a relatively fortunate position.

As well having as a loving family, the Rhinos are a ready-made support network, including medical experts.

As tragic as this situation is, it is also an opportunity to raise awareness of MND, which is something Burrow is very keen on.

The MND Association’s website is at www.mndassociation.org.

It is typical of Burrow that he has been prepared to make his condition public – and do it personally, rather than through a club statement.

Burrow is – genuinely – one of the most likable individuals in sport.Since his debut in 2001 he has achieved just about everything possible in domestic rugby league, yet success has not altered him in any way.

Modern rugby league lacks characters who can break through and make an impression at a wider level.

Burrow, though not exactly the household name he deserves to be, is someone who achieved that.

Unlike most in the sport, he has made a name for himself through his lack of size; at just 5ft 4ins tall, he proved it is not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Pound for pound, Burrow would be up among the toughest men to have played in rugby league.

He received some hammer over 17 seasons at the top level, but never took a backwards step – and when he broke into space was one of the most thrilling sights in the game.

Twice a Grand Final man of the match, he was a unanimous winner of the award in 2011 when he came off the bench against St Helens to score the finest individual try seen at Old Trafford, before setting up an equally spectacular touchdown for Ryan Hall.

Burrow was one of the best as a player, but is an even better human being. There’s no doubt he will fight this awful condition with everything he has got, but hopefully knowledge the entire sport is backing him will give him – and his family – some extra strength.