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Rob Burrow, the inspirational rugby league star, dies after battle with motor neurone disease

Kevin Sinfield and Prince William led tributes to former England and Leeds Rhinos rugby league player Rob Burrow, who died at the age of 41 after a lengthy battle with a motor neurone disease.

Mr Burrow, who played 493 times for Leeds and was capped 15 times for his country, raised millions of pounds alongside former teammate Mr Sinfield for various MND charities and the Rob Burrow Centre for MND Appeal in Leeds following his diagnosis in 2019.

He was given an MBE in the 2021 New Year’s Honours List for his services to rugby league and the motor neurone disease community having spent his years with the disease campaigning for more research into the condition and improved care conditions for those suffering from MND.

Mr Sinfield described his friend as a “beacon of hope and inspiration” in an emotional tribute. He said it was the day he hoped “would never come” as he grieved the loss of his former teammate - a “wonderful friend to so many” who “fought to the end”.

“My love and thoughts go to your beautiful family,” he added.

Leeds Rhinos confirmed his death in a statement on Sunday evening, which read: “It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of our beloved son, husband, father, brother and friend. Rob has always been a true inspiration throughout his life whether that was on the rugby league field or during his battle with MND (motor neurone disease).

“He never allowed others to define what he could achieve and believed in his own ability to do more. The outpouring of love and support that Rob and the whole Burrow family have received over the last four and half years meant so much to Rob. In particular, the rugby league family and the MND community have rallied around Rob to inspire him, thank you for your support.

“For those who knew Rob throughout his life, his determination and spirit in the face of MND over the last four and half years came as no surprise. Rob never accepted that he couldn't do something, he just found his own way of doing it better than anyone else.

“He will continue to inspire us all every day. In a world full of adversity, we must dare to dream.”

In a personally signed message on X, Prince William said: “He taught us, ‘in a world full of adversity, we must dare to dream’. Catherine and I send our love to Lindsey, Jackson, Maya and Macy.”

In January, the prince surprised Burrow and Mr Sinfield by making them CBEs during a visit to Headingley Stadium, paying tribute to their “phenomenal” efforts in raising funds for motor neurone disease.

Mr Burrow completed the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon with Mr Sinfield emotionally carrying his former teammate over the finish line having pushed him around for the 26.2-mile race.

Mr Burrow made his professional debut for Leeds Rhinos in 2001 against Hull FC before going on to enjoy a trophy-laden career at the Yorkshire club. Despite his size at just 5 ft 5 inches, the former scrum-half would go on to form an integral part of the Rhinos’ side during the 2000s and 2010s, scoring 198 tries in 493 games during 16 years at the club, which saw him become one of the most decorated players in Super League history.

Rob Burrow was a star for Leeds Rhinos (PA)
Rob Burrow was a star for Leeds Rhinos (PA)

Having won his first Super League championship in 2004, Mr Burrow won the championship seven more times. He also won two Challenge Cups with Leeds in 2014 and 2015 and was twice awarded the Harry Sunderland Trophy – for a man-of-the-match performance in the Super League final – in 2007 and 2011.

Alongside his club career, Mr Burrow also made 15 appearances for England, scoring 12 tries, and featured in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup where England reached the semi-finals.

Mr Burrow announced his retirement in 2017 and made his final appearance as a replacement in the 2017 Super League grand final as Leeds Rhinos won 24-6 against Castleford. He became the 16th inductee into the Leeds Rhino’s Hall of Fame in 2020.

Lindsey Burrow pictured with her husband (PA Wire)
Lindsey Burrow pictured with her husband (PA Wire)

Having retired in 2017, Mr Burrow announced his MND diagnosis in December 2019. As his conditions worsened, Burrow continued to represent a public face for those diagnosed with the condition as he championed greater investment in treatment for the condition and care facilities for those who had been diagnosed.

He was the focus of the BBC’s award-winning documentary Rob Burrow: Living with MND, which told the story of Burrow’s worsening condition as the former athlete continued to battle past his two-year life expectancy with MND in 2022 alongside the support of his wife, Lindsey, and his three children, Macy, Maya and Jackson.

In addition to his illustrious rugby league career, Mr Burrow’s legacy will be his huge fundraising for the MND community with the help of his great friend and former teammate, Sinfield.

Kevin Sinfield with Burrow at Headingley (Zac Goodwin/PA)
Kevin Sinfield with Burrow at Headingley (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Mr Sinfield, who was the defence coach of England’s rugby union team, has raised more than £8m for several MND causes having undertaken numerous running and endurance challenges in honour of Burrow.

In November 2022, he completed the Ultra 7 in 7 Challenge, when he ran seven back-to-back ultra-marathons culminating at Old Trafford. Before that, in 2021, he ran 101 miles in 24 hours and, in 2020, completed seven marathons in seven days.

Lindsey has also undertaken fundraising efforts for her husband, raising more than £53,000 at the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon in 2023, in which Sinfield and Burrow participated.