AMID all the well wishes following his devastating diagnosis of motor neurone disease, Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow says it is what people said about his character rather than those amazing playing feats that has cheered him most.
A sell-out crowd of 21,000 will watch as he steps out one last time for his beloved Rhinos at Emerald Headingley on Sunday alongside Jamie Jones-Buchanan in their joint-testimonial against Bradford Bulls.
It is sure to be an emotional afternoon for all involved but Burrow – who won eight Grand Finals with the club before retiring in 2017 – is clearly looking forward to the prospect.
The 37-year-old has been inundated with goodwill messages as he faces the biggest battle of his life and said: “The amount of support and messages that have come in is incredible.
“The best thing for me is not how they talk about me as a player, but how they talk about me as a person.
“That’s the most humbling thing of all; you bring your kids up to be nice people and that’s the most important thing, how people have spoken about my personality.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable – I’m as shocked as all of you.
“Whether you’re Wigan, Warrington, London, whoever, they’ve all shown their support.”
In fairness, though, none of us are “shocked” at all; it was inevitable there would be this ceaseless backing of one of the most popular players in Super League history.
There’s so many examples. All the production and presentation staff from Sky Sports, for instance, are donating their services for free as they televise the contest live.
Burrow is looking forward to meeting up with Sam Burgess, his former England and Great Britain team-mate, whose dad Mark died from motor neurone disease at the age of 45 in 2007.
He also, of course, played with Sam’s brother Luke for Rhinos while he plans to speak to Stephen Darby, too, the former Liverpool defender and Bradford City captain who was diagnosed with MND in 2018.
“Sam and all the brothers got in touch straight away,” said Burrow, who met another sufferer – former Scotland and British Lions lock Doddie Weir – in the days after his diagnosis last month.
“Sam’s over soon and I’ll meet him when he does come. It’ll be great to have a chat with all four of them (twins George and Tom Burgess) just to get their information on how they helped their dad and things like that.
“It’ll be interesting to listen to them.
“I’ve not met Stephen (Darby) yet but he’s been in touch. I’m going to speak with him and the amount of people with MND who have got in touch – be they famous or not – is amazing.
“They’ve all told me their stories, and whether it’s emails, tweets, WhatsApp messages.. I just want people to know that I’ve read all their messages and listened to their advice about what to do.
“Everything I’ve received has been really welcome.”
Ex-Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney, who grew to love Rhinos after watching one of their many Grand Final successes at Old Trafford, posted a message on social media, something that also left Burrow staggered.
“I’m always using the same words but the message from Wayne Rooney was humbling,” he added.
“I’m like you; Wayne Rooney is one of the best footballers ever and for him to say something like that about me is incredible.
“I Tweeted him directly afterwards thanking him, I couldn’t believe he knew who I was let alone him saying good luck.
“He replied saying he loved watching me play and I couldn’t believe that was real. I’m just a normal person who admires people like Wayne.
“I’ve run out of words what to say whether it’s Sky Sports or the man on the street shaking my hand.
“It is overwhelming.”