Sporting rugby family the Burtons are pushing each other to the top

IT would be an understatement to say competitiveness runs through the Burton family.
Oli BurtonOli Burton
Oli Burton

Indeed, you could imagine an argument breaking out between them all about that very subject itself: who is the most competitive of them all.

At 20, Abi Burton is the eldest sibling of the Leeds-born clan and already an international, playing professional rugby union for England Women Sevens side.

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Last month she was also named in the Team GB squad in training for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now delayed until next summer.

Abi BurtonAbi Burton
Abi Burton

However, her younger brothers – 18 year-old twins Joe and Oli – are intent on reaching the elite level in the 13-man code, the Leeds Rhinos academy duo recently included in England’s National Academy Performance Squad.

It is perhaps no surprise they are so sporty and driven; their dad Danny Burton played professionally for Halifax before concentrating on his police career.

He featured with Dewsbury Rams and Hunslet Hawks but also won the National Conference Premier Division title with his beloved Oulton Raiders, the Leeds amateur club where all three kids got their first taste of rugby.

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Their mum Sarah did not play but was an excellent swimmer and Joe – an outside back who cites his parents as his biggest influence – conceded: “We are a sporty family who all push each other to do our best and motivate each other.

Leeds Rhinos Academy's Joe Burton.Leeds Rhinos Academy's Joe Burton.
Leeds Rhinos Academy's Joe Burton.

“We are all competitive; I beat my dad on the bench press the other day and he was fuming.

“There is competitiveness with me and Oli. We have always been competing in other sports we’ve tried like boxing and judo; even now while we are self-isolating we are competing on the Xbox.”

That seems a common theme among the young triumvirate.

“Every year at Christmas when I come home we have a family race,” explained Abi.

Talented family L-R: Joe, Abi and Oli BurtonTalented family L-R: Joe, Abi and Oli Burton
Talented family L-R: Joe, Abi and Oli Burton
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“Last year, I finally beat my dad. It took me 19 years but I finally did it. He’s 40-odd and still thinks he can beat us all over 50 metres so he wasn’t happy. Kept saying there’d been a false start!”

Like her brothers, Abi tried all sorts of sports before concentrating on union. She recalled: “As kids, we all played down at Rocky’s Tots at Oulton.

“But, when I scored a try and ended up cartwheeling up the field, it kind of came across that maybe I wanted to do gymnastics more! I went on to do that and then, from eight to 13, did swimming quite competitively, too, and got national medals in butterfly and different strokes.

“But after that I realised I wanted a little bit more; swimming is a very individual sport and if your personality is suited to that then great. But when I’ve two younger brothers who used to rag my ear off talking and we’d all be very inclusive in the family, you do want a bit more of an inclusive sport.

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“When I was 14 I went to try out at Castleford union side and that’s where everything started for me.

“I still did athletics as well and netball – any sport I could.

“Mum and dad have always wanted us to be active. They’ve never really pushed us to do one sport or another but naturally we all followed my dad’s roots in wanting to play rugby.”

Oli is a hooker who has studied endless footage of Melbourne Storm’s former Australia captain Cameron Smith to try and master his trade. He added: “From a young age we always watched my dad down at Oulton and were all involved in lots of sports.

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“I enjoyed Thai boxing. We both did, me and Joe. There’s always been that competitiveness in everything we do, especially with us two. We’ve always driven each other on from an early age, racing each other to finish our breakfasts and things like that.

“We’re the same in the gym and if we get PBs we’re always proud of each other. It was great to get selected for the England Academy together. We were in the England Under-16s and that was really good. I just want to continue hard and be the best version of myself. I want to play Super League but that starts with performances in the Academy and I have to keep pushing for consistency there.”

Abi, though, is adamant they will both go onto play for England.

“In our house we’re going to get one of my England shirts put on the wall,” she said.

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“Joe and Oli have obviously got their England Youth shirts and my mum said should we put them up as well? But Joe said no. They didn’t want their England Youth shirts up against my actual England shirt.

“He said they’ll put an actual England shirt up there when they get one. And now I won’t put up my shirt until they both have theirs as well.

“And I honestly do believe they will.”

With that innate competitive edge, it would take a brave person to argue otherwise.