Home » Rob Burrow: Leeds Rhinos rugby league legend dies aged 41 after suffering from motor neurone disease

Rob Burrow: Leeds Rhinos rugby league legend dies aged 41 after suffering from motor neurone disease

Rugby league legend Rob Burrow has died at the age of 41.

Burrow was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019, just two years after retiring from a stellar 17-season rugby league career.

He won eight Super League titles, two Challenge Cup trophies and three World Club Challenges in an illustrious playing spell with Leeds, while he also represented England and Great Britain internationally.

After being diagnosed with the illness, he dedicated himself to raising awareness and funds for the MND community with the support of close friend and former Leeds team-mate Kevin Sinfield.

In an emotional tribute to his friend, Sinfield described the news as “the day that I hoped would never come”.

In a statement, he said: “I would always say that you were pound for pound the toughest player I ever played alongside, however since your diagnosis you were the toughest and bravest man I have ever met.”

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Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield after Leeds Rhinos’ Super League Grand Final win in 2011

Leeds’ statement released on Sunday evening, which confirmed Burrow was surrounded by his family when he passed away, read: “It is with deep sadness that the club can confirm that former player Rob Burrow CBE has passed away, aged 41.

“Rob inspired the entire country with his brave battle against motor neurone disease (MND) since his diagnosis in December 2019. He passed away peacefully at Pinderfields Hospital near his home surrounded by his loving family after becoming ill earlier this week.

“Burrow played his entire career with Leeds Rhinos and won every honour with the club as part of their golden generation. A hard working and dedicated player, his fearless performances made him one of the most respected players in the Rhinos ranks.

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Fans have arrived at Headingley to pay tribute to former Leeds Rhinos star Rob Burrow who has died aged 41

“On behalf of the Burrow family, we would like to thank the staff at Pinderfields Hospital for their compassion and caring for Rob in his final days.

“Fittingly, as a tribute to the incredible work done by Rob, the ground-breaking of the new Rob Burrow Centre for MND at Seacroft Hospital on Monday will go ahead as planned at Rob’s request. At this time, we would ask that everyone respect the privacy of the Burrow family.

“Well wishers who wish to pay their respects to Rob can do so in the South Stand at Rob’s beloved Headingley Stadium, with the gates open from Sunday evening for visitors to come.

Burrow family: Rob never allowed others to define what he could achieve

Burrow is survived by wife Lindsey and children Macy, Maya and Jackson.

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Rob Burrow and family took over Sky Sports’ coverage of Leeds Rhinos vs Huddersfield Giants to raise awareness of motor neurone disease in June 2023

A statement from the Burrow family 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. 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 a half years meant so much to Rob.

Rob Burrow's children Maya, Jackson and Macy at the Burrow Family Takeover Broadcast Headingley last June
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Rob Burrow’s children Maya, Jackson and Macy at the Burrow Family Takeover Broadcast at Headingley last June

“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 a 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.”

Rob regarded the Family Takeover Broadcast as one of his happiest days.
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Rob regarded the Family Takeover Broadcast as one of his happiest days

The Motor Neurone Disease Association said: “It is testament to the strength of feeling people have for Rob that the support in his name has never wavered.

“The MND Association is incredibly grateful to Rob and his family for helping to raise awareness of MND, and funds for the association, by sharing the details of their journey and by inspiring so many people both within the MND community and the wider public.

“Our thoughts today are with Rob’s wife Lindsey, children Macy, Maya and Jackson, family and friends and the rugby community.”

Sinfield’s emotional tribute to ‘my little mate’

Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow
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Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow were synonymous in recent years

Burrow’s former Leeds team-mate Sinfield has helped to raise more than £15 million to combat motor neurone disease through a series of challenges since 2019 and the pair were both awarded CBEs at the end of last year.

Sinfield released a tribute on Sunday evening in which he expressed his love for his “inspirational” friend.

“Today was the day that I hoped would never come,” he said.

“The world has lost a great man and a wonderful friend to so, so many. You fought so bravely until the end and became a beacon of hope and inspiration, not only for the MND community but for all those who saw and heard your story.

“My love and thoughts go to your beautiful family, Lindsey, Macy, Maya and Jackson, to your lovely parents Geoff and Irene, sisters Joanne and Claire and your wider family and friends.

“You will continue to inspire me every single day. I have lost a dear friend and I will never forget the special times we shared both on and off the pitch.

“I would always say that you were pound for pound the toughest player I ever played alongside, however since your diagnosis you were the toughest and bravest man I have ever met.

“The last four and a half years you showed the world what living and loving looked like and this was always done with the biggest smile on your face. I will miss you my little mate.”

Rob Burrow: Star player and MND campaigner

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com - 07/10/2017 - Rugby League - Betfred Super League Grand Final - Castleford Tigers v Leeds Rhinos - Old Trafford, Manchester, England - Rob Burrow.
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Burrow won eight Super League titles, two Challenge Cup trophies and three World Club Challenges with Leeds

Burrow was part of the Leeds team that won Super League in 2004, a victory that ended the club’s 32-year wait for a title, while he was then named Player of the Match in Rhinos’ 2007 and 2011 victories.

In February, it was announced that the Player of the Match award at this year’s Super League Grand Final will be renamed after Burrow, the only player to win the prize twice.

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Leeds Rhinos forward Cameron Smith remembers former team-mate and coach Rob Burrow and suggests he was a maverick on the rugby pitch.

Burrow made 492 appearances for the club, placing him fifth on the all-time list of career appearances and scored 196 tries for a total of 1,103 points.

Internationally, Burrow – who was awarded a CBE in January 2024 – was capped 15 times by England and played five Tests for Great Britain.

Since his MND diagnosis, Burrow, along with Sinfield, has inspired nearly £20 million in fundraising across the UK and Ireland, including raising over £6 million to build the Rob Burrow Centre for MND in Leeds.

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An emotional Burrow took to the field for the final time in January 2020 to a standing ovation at a sold-out Headingley

‘Burrow’s legacy is immense – he was brave beyond words’

A statement from Sky Sports Rugby League read: “Rob Burrow was an icon and inspiration. First as a player for Leeds, Great Britain and England; then even more heroic in his retirement, courageously battling MND.

“His legacy is immense. Everyone at Sky Sports, especially those in the Rugby League team, will remain forever touched by his brilliance and bravery. All our thoughts are with his family, especially Lindsey and their children. “

Former Leeds Rhinos prop Barrie McDermott, who now works as a pundit for Sky Sports, was very close to Burrow and paid tribute to his friend on X.

“The world will never forget Rob Burrow,” he posted. “He is a hero to so many people and an inspiration to all who were lucky enough to meet him or came across his story on and off the pitch.

“He made me dance like MJ & run when I hate doing both but mainly he made me laugh out loud. He was brave beyond words. In these last few months he has taught me so much about courage, kindness and love.

“Good night, god bless me little brother. I feel blessed to call you my friend.”

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Burrow wrote his name into Grand Final history with his stunning solo try which set Leeds Rhinos on course for victory in 2011

RFL to remember Burrow on Challenge Cup finals day

The Rugby Football League (RFL) said: “Rob Burrow was an outstanding rugby league player, for club and country. Since December 2019, his courage and humanity – allied to that of his family, friends and former Leeds Rhinos team-mates, led by Kevin Sinfield CBE – has transcended sport.

“We send our love, support and sympathy to Lindsey, the children, Geoff and Irene, and the rest of his family – and we pay tribute to a Rugby League hero.”

RFL chair Simon Johnson said time would be taken to consider how best to remember Burrow at Challenge Cup finals day on Saturday, June 8.

Johnson said: “This devastating news has united all in Rugby League in sadness and the many others who have been touched and inspired by the courageous response of Rob, his family and friends since his diagnosis in December 2019.

“We will take a little time as a sport to consider how best to remember Rob, and to celebrate his life, at our Challenge Cup Finals Day at Wembley Stadium next Saturday, when Leeds Rhinos will play St Helens in the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup Final.”

Sporting world and beyond pays tribute to Burrow

Former England cricketer Stuart Broad, ex-Newcastle and England footballer Alan Shearer and the Prince of Wales were among those to pay tribute to Burrow on social media.