Leeds Rhinos v Huddersfield Giants: Rob Burrow set for emotional return to Headingley

THERE will be a game of rugby league tonight at Emerald Headingley but, inevitably, it will pale into insignificance.

That is not down to any lack of effort or desire from the protagonists Leeds Rhinos and Huddersfield Giants.

Indeed, both of the West Yorkshire rivals will be especially keen for a win that could help ensure their seasons do not yet start to fizzle out.

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However, Rhinos legend Rob Burrow is guest of honour at the televised Super League game; as much as he will not want to be, he will be the centre of attention.

Burrow, who won eight Grand Finals and played almost 500 games for Leeds, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in December 2019.

His brave fight against the incurable, debilitating disease has been courageous and heart-breaking in equal measure and it has been detailed in his autobiography, Too Many Reasons To Live, which will be officially launched at this evening’s match.

The last time Burrow was at Headingley on matchday was when he briefly came out of retirement to play a memorable and emotional cameo against Bradford Bulls in January last year, 20,000 fans paying homage to their hero.

Now, of course, the 38-year-old father-of-three is confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak and left so reliant on his wife Lindsey, whose love and care for her husband so obviously shines through in the moving memoir.

Guest of honour: Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow, pictured above with son Jackson at last year’s fundraising game, will be back at Headingley tonight where he will launch his autbiography. Picture: Steve Riding

Rhinos head coach Richard Agar knows it will be another emotional time at Headingley this evening.

He said: “Absolutely: we have some very fierce and loyal fans at Leeds. The Golden Generation team are held in the highest esteem. With the way Rob played the game, to have such a long and wonderful career really endeared him to the Leeds faithful.

“I think the type of guy he is too; he’s got time for everyone, and we saw the appreciation and love for him when he was playing, following his retirement and during his diagnosis.

“The fundraising game for Rob in January 2020 was a fantastic indication of how Leeds fans and people in the game generally feel about him. I think everybody will look forward to seeing him.

“Hopefully it will be a great occasion for him and his family.”

Agar spoke to the former England scrum-half recently and admitted: “I saw him at a Championship game, Featherstone versus York, at the weekend.

“His old mate, James Ford, was coaching York and didn’t win so we had a bit of a giggle about what Fordy would be going through on Saturday night.

“It’s always a special time when we see him. He’s not been in and around our camp since February, when he presented Zane Tetevano’s jersey to him.

“But Rob’s in really good spirits and he still loves and enjoys his rugby league. It will be fantastic to see him tomorrow night.”

Burrow’s story, the bravery and resilience shown against such a merciless condition, has won the hearts of millions, and the BBC’s ‘Rob Burrow: My Year with MND’ has been shortlisted for the best authored documentary at this year’s National TV Awards.

Burrow’s presence in the stadium he graced for 17 years will serve as another motivation for the current Rhinos team.

“It always is; it’s never lost on our guys that some of them have been team-mates of Rob’s,” added Agar.

“He’s coached quite a number of our team as well, so on a personal level a lot of our guys have a special bond with Rob.

“They have got a lot of care for him and he’s got the care for them too. Rob’s shown unbelievable courage and spirit in the face of circumstances that none of us could ever really imagine.”

Agar has confirmed injuries to Luke Gale and Konrad Hurrell that could rule both of them out for the rest of the season.

Half-back Callum McLelland comes in and will look to make the most of a rare chance tonight.

Tonga centre Hurrell is out of contract at the end of the season.

Leeds have offered him a new deal but St Helens are reportedly interested in taking him on for 2022.