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The photos of Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow that show the power of male friendship

Leeds captain, Kevin Sinfield celebrates victory over St Helens with Rob Burrow Rob Burrow. Manchester, UK - 04 Oct 2008
Rob Burrow played alongside Kevin Sinfield for Leeds Rhinos for over two decades - Ben Duffy/Shutterstock

As teammates, the fellowship between Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield was often told in the countless images of the Leeds Rhinos winning Super League and Challenge Cup trophies together over two decades in rugby league. Yet their bond as teammates only grew in strength and intensity after Burrow’s diagnosis with motor neurone disease (MND) in 2019. Along with Burrow’s family, Sinfield, 43, has spent the past five years raising awareness and funds for Burrow’s MND charity and supporting his best friend at every opportunity, right up to Burrow’s tragic death at the age of 41 on Sunday.

Sinfield’s commitment was expressed in more than affection and sympathy, with a campaign of fundraising that included seven ultra marathons in seven days in seven cities across the UK and Ireland. These alone generated more than £2 million for people affected by motor neurone disease. The name of the “7 in 7 in 7 Challenge” was inspired by the No 7 shirt the Pontfract-born Burrow wore throughout his career.

In total, the pair raised over £13 million together for MND charities, including a £6.8 million appeal for Leeds Hospitals Charity, where Burrow received care, which it is hoped will feature a state-of-the-art care centre for people living with the currently incurable condition that affects the brain and nervous system. Work is set to begin building the new Rob Burrow Centre for Motor Neurone Disease “as planned at Rob’s request”.

Burrow was diagnosed just two years after retiring, at the end of a stellar rugby league career with Leeds – and the incredible camaraderie and love he shared with Sinfield is expressed in these images.

Representing Great Britain

Great Britain's Kevin Sinfield congratulates Rob Burrow on his try during the Frontline Test match at Headingley Stadium, Leeds in 2011

On June 22 2007, Great Britain beat France 42-14, with both players putting in outstanding performances at Headingley, Leeds’ home ground, where Burrow joined Sinfield 25 years ago. Burrow, left, scored two tries and was congratulated by Sinfield, who struck five kicks for his country. Burrow played 13 times for England and five for Great Britain, while Sinfield has 29 England caps and 14 for Great Britain. On this Friday night in Leeds, the 5ft 5in Burrow was engulfed in the arms of Sinfield, an image of brotherhood that would be repeated with greater and greater pathos as Burrow’s condition deteriorated after 2019.

Super League titles for Leeds

The duo celebrate yet another Burrow score in a Leeds victory over Hull in September 2011, on their way to winning the Super League once again
The duo celebrate yet another Burrow score in a Leeds victory over Hull in September 2011, on their way to winning the Super League once again - John Rushworth/Action Images

Burrow joined Leeds academy in 1999 and played as scrum-half for them between 2001 and 2017, whereas Sinfield – similarly a one-club man in rugby league – was a stand-off and forward for the Yorkshire side between 1997 and 2015. The two of them were among the architects of a golden age for the Rhinos, becoming Super League champions eight times between 2004 and 2017. Sinfield and Burrow sit second and eighth respectively in the all-time Super League appearances table, both having played over 400 matches. Here they celebrate yet another Burrow try in a victory over Hull FC in September 2011, on their way to the title. “Kev was my captain and he still is my captain,” said Burrow. “He always will be. We played together for years. We sat next to each other in the dressing room. We went through the highs and lows of rugby league.”

Sports Personality of the Year

Kevin Sinfield holds his BBC Special Award alongside Rob Burrow during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards 2022
Both rugby league stars were honoured, of course together, at BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2022 - David Davies/PA

An emotional Sinfield holds his Special Award on the same night the Helen Rollason Award was given to Burrow at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2022 in Salford. Burrow was recognised for his “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity”. Three years earlier, the Scotland rugby union player Doddie Weir was given the same accolade, and Burrow and Weir worked together to highlight the underfunding of MND until Weir’s death in 2022, aged 52. Burrow, who communicated using eye-controlled software, said: “I’m totally overcome with this award due to the amount of amazing people who have won this before. In particular my MND hero, Doddie Weir.”

Marathon finish line

Sinfield carried Burrow over the finish line at the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon last year
Sinfield carried Burrow over the finish line at the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon last year - Danny Lawson/PA

After pushing his friend 26.2 miles in a wheelchair, Sinfield holds Burrow in his arms as they cross the finish line of the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon in May last year, creating the most poignant portrait of their incredible friendship. The race started and finished at Headingley Stadium, the scene of so much of their on-field glory. As The Telegraph’s Oliver Brown wrote, this image was “the purest distillation of their friendship”. Sinfield pushed Burrow around the course only three weeks after running the London Marathon. “The people of Leeds really came out and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Sinfield.

Meeting the Prince of Wales

Britain's Prince of Wales William meets rugby coach Kevin Sinfield and former rugby league player Rob Burrow to congratulate them for raising awareness of Motor Neurone Disease, during his visit to the Headingley Stadium in Leeds,

In January, the Prince of Wales met Burrow and Sinfield on a visit to Headingley, announcing CBEs for both men in the New Year Honours List. William spent time with Burrow’s wife and children, although he had to endure a joke at his expense when Burrow reminded him that former rugby star Mike Tindall – married to the Prince’s cousin, Zara – calls the Prince “One Pint Willy” for apparently “not being the best of drinkers”. On the news of Burrow’s death, Prince William’s statement read: “Rob Burrow had a huge heart. He taught us ‘in a world full of adversity, we must dare to dream’. Catherine and I send out love to Lindsey, Jackson, Maya and Macy.”

The last photo of them together

Rob Burrow alongside wife Lindsey (who ran the half marathon), daughters Macy and Maya and Kevin Sinfield who ran the full marathon all pose for a picture after the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon 2024
Kevin and Rob with his wife Lindsey, and their daughters Macy and Maya at the Rob Burrow Half Marathon in Leeds this year - Danny Lawson/PA

The last photo of Burrow shows him with his wife Lindsey – who ran the Rob Burrow Half Marathon in Leeds on May 12 – and their daughters Macy and Maya. Sinfield, on the right, also took part in what was the latest of many marathons and half-marathons on behalf of his great friend, who was at the finish line to greet the 14,000 participants. “This is a true marathon about friendship and spirit, comradery and teamship,” said Sinfield. Burrow was taken ill last week and passed away in Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, surrounded by his family and best friend. He was, in Sinfield’s words, the “toughest and bravest man I ever met”.

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