Rob Burrow has a poignant message for the Leeds Rhinos players who will report to Old Trafford for Saturday’s grand final.
“None of us know what twists and turns our journey in life will take,” says the eight-time Super League champion. “So make sure you enjoy the special moments when they’re right in front of you.”
Burrow, more than anyone, knows the importance of savoring every second.
The 5-foot-5 former scrum-half was in the last Leeds team to win a Grand Final in 2017. That win over Castleford was also his last match before retiring and he ranks lifting the trophy alongside outgoing captain Danny McGuire as one. one of the proudest moments of his professional career.
Rob Burrow (left) has told the Leeds Rhinos stars to enjoy every moment of their run ahead of their Grand Final clash.
However, just two years later, and after moving on to train with the Rhinos Academy, Burrow was tragically diagnosed with motor neurone disease. He now uses a wheelchair and has lost the ability to speak. To communicate, including for this interview, he uses a piece of technology called Eyegaze, where he controls a keyboard with the movement of his eyes.
However, one thing that hasn’t changed during Burrow’s battle with terminal illness is his passion for his former club. Immediately after the Rhinos won at Wigan in last week’s play-off semi-final, he tweeted that he was “absolutely stoked for the boys”.
Now, two days before his 40th birthday, Burrow is hoping Leeds can give him an early birthday present by beating St Helens at Old Trafford. It’s something he knows a thing or two about. Of the Rhinos’ eight Grand Final wins, and Burrow was involved in all of them, four came against the Saints, in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.
“The rivalry with the Saints was pretty intense, but that always brought out the best in both teams when we met,” Burrow recalls to Sportsmail. “I was very lucky to be part of that Golden Generation at Leeds and was proud to be part of a special group of players who achieved our childhood dreams together. Those memories with my teammates is what I treasure the most.’
Rhinos fans also treasure Burrow’s individual brilliance, most notably his attempt in the 2011 final, which is widely regarded as the best ever in a Grand Final. He received the ball at the halfway line and ducked and weaved his way past five Saints players before diving under the posts. Burrow remains the only player to win the Harry Sunderland Man of the Match Trophy with the unanimous vote of all 37 judges.
‘It’s hard to forget that moment, especially at this time of year when so much is played… Not that I’m complaining!’ Burrow laughs. ‘The attempt itself was just a bit of instinct. I was always able to play impromptu since I was a kid, usually trying to avoid being hit by a bigger player!
Burrow was Super League champion eight times in his career before retiring in 2017
I just saw two big men and I ducked between them. So I went into autopilot and managed to get past Paul Wellens and then get to the line just before the chasing defender.’
Burrow’s moment of magic helped Leeds become the first team to lift the Grand Final trophy after finishing fifth in the table, a feat they repeated the following season. Now the class of 2022 are 80 minutes away from being champions again from fifth place, having also beaten Catalans and Wigan in the play-offs as they did in 2012.
“It’s creepy how similar it is,” admits Burrow. ‘Back then, we also had to go away from home in the play-offs and everyone wrote us off.
“The difference then was that we believed we could do it having won several Grand Finals before. But this current group is writing its own history and clearly has many beliefs as well.
Burrow scored a sensational try to help Leeds win against St Helens in the 2011 final
“We always used to say, ‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish that counts’, and now they follow that old mantra.
“They have done incredibly well in the last couple of months to turn their season around. I am particularly pleased with the young players, as I have worked with many of them when they first joined the club.’
Leeds’ resurgence has followed the appointment of Rohan Smith as boss in April, at a time when they were just one point from the bottom of the table. The Australian is the nephew of Tony Smith, who led Burrow’s Rhinos to glory as manager in 2005 and 2007.
“Rohan has done a great job,” says Burrow. “His uncle was a wonderful coach and I enjoyed every minute playing with him. From the outside looking in, Rohan, as his uncle, seems to have earned the trust of the players. They believe in what he asks them to do and it shows on the pitch.’
The 39-year-old coach applauded the appointment of Rohan Smith, who has won nine of his last ten games in charge of the club.
Leeds have won 13 of their 18 Super League games under Smith, including nine of the last 10. However, Kristian Woolf’s Saints topped the table in the regular season and are bidding to become the first team to win four Grand Finals. in a row and succeed. a record 10 titles in total.
‘St Helens have been the dominant team for the last three years and they have deservedly been champions during that period,’ adds Burrow. “But if Leeds can win back the title, they will certainly have deserved it.”
“Grand Finals are tremendous occasions, especially with the army of Leeds fans walking towards Old Trafford making noise. Although I won’t be at Old Trafford, I will certainly be there in spirit and watching on television. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Rob’s friend and former captain Kevin Sinfield will reveal his latest challenge to raise awareness and funds for the MND community on Monday, to coincide with Rob’s 40th birthday.