It’s time to immortalise Leeds’ humble heroes Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow - Rob Potts

Being a Rugby League fan can be a bit of an isolating experience: each week you watch the most incredible, humble athletes execute the most sublime skills and push their bodies to the most extreme of physical limits.

Yet come Monday morning, when you flick on the sports bulletin, you’re quickly reminded that the rest of the world is largely ambivalent and competitors from other sports, unencumbered by northern, working class origins, are left to hog the spotlight.

There’s a tragic irony therefore that over the past couple of years two of the sport’s most decorated yet unassuming heroes have finally been thrust into the public domain - not for their on-field exploits or countless honours but instead for something far more universal: their resilience, their courage and their unbreakable bond of friendship.

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It’s the sporting story neither man would wish to be part of but, through their response to critical illness, Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield have inspired a nation.

Kevin Sinfield has been raising money for MND charities.  PIC: Frank ReidKevin Sinfield has been raising money for MND charities.  PIC: Frank Reid
Kevin Sinfield has been raising money for MND charities. PIC: Frank Reid

Watching Rob Burrow and his beautiful family deal with the crushing effects of Motor Neurone Disease has been something that has reduced even the toughest amongst us to tears.

Anyone who has ever been fortunate enough to meet Rob was already aware of his humility and good grace, and anyone who has witnessed this diminutive athlete perform incredible feats in a sport dominated by giants, will have been aware of his courage.

Now though, in the most desperate of circumstances, those qualities have earned him the love and affection of the whole country.

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Alongside that, however, is another compelling narrative: the story of the captain who led his team-mates to countless grand final victories and the friend who pushed his body to its physical limits to support an ailing pal.

Kevin Sinfield may have earned widespread admiration for the improbable series of physical challenges he’s subjected himself to since Rob’s initial diagnosis but - perhaps more importantly - he’s established himself as the best mate all of us wish we had. With the pair of them having established themselves as national treasures, it’s perhaps fitting that they had just been awarded the freedom of Leeds - the city where they were already household names. But why stop there?

Too often we wait until people are gone before we express our love for them adequately. Often, rather than articulating those feelings adequately whilst they are still here, we leave it too late and then feel compelled to rush to a knee-jerk response. I hope we don’t make the same mistake here.

Since Edward Colston’s bronze effigy was unceremoniously dumped into Bristol Harbour in June 2020, statues have emerged as a surprising topic of public debate. From Colston to Churchill, those once feted as paragons can quickly be recast as pariahs.

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But if anyone deserves to be immortalised in this way, it’s our iconic duo. What better way to commemorate their heroism in sport and in life than casting their likeness permanently in a prominent location in Leeds?

Better still, why doesn’t the Rugby Football League take inspiration from Australia’s National Rugby League and create its own version of that competition’s iconic Provan-Summons Trophy?

Rob Potts is the author of The Caring Teacher – How to make a positive difference in the classroom.