Home » ‘True inspiration’: Tributes flow as rugby league great dies at 41 after illness battle

‘True inspiration’: Tributes flow as rugby league great dies at 41 after illness battle

Prince William led the tributes to Rob Burrow after the former rugby league star died on Sunday aged 41 following a lengthy battle with motor neurone disease.

Burrow won eight Super League titles, three World Club Challenges and two Challenge Cups during an iconic career with Leeds Rhinos.

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The England international retired in 2017 but two years later it was revealed he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

In a personally signed message on social media, William, the Prince of Wales, saluted Burrow, saying: “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.”

The Prince of Wales paid tribute to Burrow’s “phenomenal” efforts in raising awareness of motor neurone disease.

Leeds had revealed Burrow’s death in a statement that said: “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.”

Burrow made more than 400 appearances for Leeds between 2001 and 2017. He raised over £15 million ($19 million) to help build a new care centre for motor neurone disease patients alongside former teammate Kevin Sinfield.

Burrow made 15 appearances for England. (Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

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Speaking after his diagnosis, Burrow struck a defiant tone.

“The worst thing for me is people pitying me,” he said. “I know it’s going to come, but I want to be as normal as ever.

“While I am able-bodied and feel fit and strong and healthy, I want to do normal things and not be treated any differently.” By January 2021, Burrow had lost the use of his hands and arms and began using a wheelchair after his legs became weak.

But he continued to fundraise for motor neurone disease charities and in May last year Sinfield carried him over the finish line at the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon after pushing his great friend for the 26.2 miles.

Leeds plan to recognise the achievements of both Burrow and Sinfield with a statue at their Headingley stadium.

Burrow was made an MBE in the 2021 New Year Honours and a CBE in 2024 for his services to the sport and motor neurone disease charities.

“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,” Leeds added.

Burrow was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“In particular, the rugby league family and 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.” The player of the match award at this year’s Super League Grand Final will be renamed after Burrow, who was the first player to win it twice in 2007 and 2011.

As tributes poured in for one of the sport’s most decorated players, the Rugby Football League said: “Since December 2019, his courage and humanity has transcended sport.” The MND Association, for whom Burrow became a patron in 2021, added: “In doing so much, he inspired support from so many.

“It is testament to the strength of feeling people have for Rob that the support in his name has never wavered.”

Burrow, who is survived by wife Lindsey and children Macy, Maya and Jackson, won 15 England caps and made five appearances for Great Britain.

He scored 196 tries in his peerless career, but it was the courage he showed throughout his illness-wracked final years that will serve as Burrow’s lasting legacy.