Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow tells team to enjoy every moment ahead of Super League Grand Final
Rob Burrow has a poignant message for the Leeds Rhinos players who step out at Old Trafford for tonight’s Grand Final.
“None of us know what turns our journey in life will take,” says the eight-time Superliga champion. ‘So make sure you enjoy the special moments when they are in front of you.’
Burrow knows more than anyone the importance of enjoying every second.
The 5ft 5in former scrum-half was in the last Leeds side to win a Grand Final in 2017. That win over Castleford was also his last game before retiring and he ranks with lifting the trophy alongside outgoing captain Danny McGuire as one of his proudest moments. career.
Rob Burrow (left) has told Leeds Rhinos stars to enjoy every moment of their careers ahead of their Grand Final clash
But just two years later, and after moving into coaching 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 his eye movement.
Yet one thing that hasn’t changed during Burrows’ battle with the 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 buzzing for the boys’.
Now, two days before he turns 40, Burrow hopes 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 quite intense but it always brought out the best in both teams when we met,” Burrow recalled to Sportsmail. ‘I was just very lucky to be part of the golden generation at Leeds and I was proud to be part of a special group of players who together achieved our childhood dreams. The memories with my mates are what I value most.’
Rhinos fans also appreciate Burrows’ individual brilliance, not least his try in the 2011 final, widely regarded as the greatest ever in a Grand Final. He received the ball on the halfway line and ducked and weaved his way past five Saints players before diving under the posts. Burrow remains the only player to have won the Harry Sunderland Trophy for man of the match with a unanimous vote by all 37 umpires.
‘It’s hard to forget that moment, especially at this time of year when it gets played so much… not that I’m complaining!’ laughs Burrow. “The attempt itself was just a bit of instinct. I’ve always been able to play off the cuff since I was a kid, usually trying to avoid being hit by a bigger player!
Burrow was a Super League champion eight times in his career before retiring in 2017
‘I just saw two big men and ducked between them. I was then on autopilot and managed to get around 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 becoming champions from fifth place again, having beaten the Catalans and Wigan in the play-offs just as they did in 2012.
“It’s uncanny how similar it is,” Burrow admits. ‘Back then we also had to leave home in the play-offs, where everyone wrote us off.
“The difference then was that we had the belief that we could do it having won several grand finals before. But this current group are writing their own history and obviously have a lot of belief too.
Burrow scored a sensational try to help Leeds to victory against St Helens in the 2011 final
“We always used to say, ‘It’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts’, and they’re following that old mantra now.
‘They have done incredibly well over the last few months to turn their season around. I am especially happy for the young players, having worked with many of them when they first came to the club.’
Leeds’ revival has followed the appointment of Rohan Smith as boss in April, at a time when they were just one point off the bottom of the table. The Aussie is the nephew of Tony Smith, who led Burrow’s Rhinos to glory as coach in 2005 and 2007.
“Rohan has done a fantastic job,” says Burrow. ‘His uncle was a wonderful coach and I loved every minute of playing under him. From the outside, Rohan, like his uncle, appears to have earned that trust from the players. They believe in what he asks of them, and you can see that on the pitch.’
The 39-year-old hailed 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 their last 10. However, Kristian Woolf’s Saints topped the table in the regular season and are aiming to become the first team to win four consecutive grand finals and reach record with 10 titles in total.
“St Helens have been the dominant team for the last three years and have deservedly been champions in that period,” added Burrow. “But if Leeds can get the title back, they will certainly have deserved it.
‘Grand Finals are fantastic events, especially with the army of Leeds fans wandering over to Old Trafford and making a racket. Although I won’t be at Old Trafford, I will certainly be there in spirit watching on the telly. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.’
Rob’s friend and former captain Kevin Sinfield will on Monday unveil his latest challenge to raise awareness and funds for the MND community to coincide with Rob’s 40th birthday.