A CLEARLY overwhelmed Rob Burrow paid tribute to rugby league’s “team spirit” after a full house packed Headingley to show their backing for one of the sport’s most popular figures.
Leeds Rhinos, the club for which he won eight Grand Finals and where he is now reserve team coach, launched a fund for Burrow and his family after he was diagnosed last month with the terminal illness motor neurone disease.
Including gift aid contributions, that total has passed £300,000 and the coffers were further swelled by a share of the proceeds from a pre-season game against Bradford Bulls played in front of a sell-out crowd of more than 19,000.
Burrow, who retired in 2017, played the final five minutes of an emotional afternoon, alongside fellow club legends Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Kylie Leuluai, Jamie Peacock, Keith Senior, Ryan Bailey and Brett Delaney.
Bradford’s fans stayed behind to cheer Burrow after the final whistle and the 37-year-old father-of-three felt their reaction typified the essence of rugby league.
“Our sport isn’t the biggest, but it’s the closest-knit in the world,” said Burrow afterwards.
“We stay together and look after our own - you can’t imagine what it’s like to have Wigan fans, Cas fans, Saints fans, Bradford, Leeds, all saying nice stuff and wanting to do something for you. It was a true-life example of what our game is all about.”
Burrow will now return to his duties on Leeds’s coaching staff and admitted he is looking forward to getting back to normality after three extraordinary weeks.
“I am not one for the limelight,” he added.
“I have got some stuff to do tomorrow, but when that settles it’s back to normal life – and I can’t wait to get back to what it’s like being a dad – cleaning nappies, and doing a bit of coaching.
“The sooner I get back to that the better, but how can you not enjoy an event like today? The past few weeks since I was diagnosed has been an unbelievable time.”
The game was originally arranged as a testimonial for Jones-Buchanan, whose 20-year Rhinos playing career ended last season.
Describing yesterday as the “most powerful” moment of his career, Jones-Buchanan insisted: “It was symbolic of what this club has been about for 15-20 years.
“It was magic as an event and it was all there for Rob. I think we’re all overwhelmed at how it has grown exponentially in the last two or three weeks.
“The whole of rugby league has got behind it. Everybody is wanting to support Rob and they’ve done that.”
Bradford donated their share of the gate to Burrow’s fund and coach John Kear reflected: “It was emotional and I am really proud of everybody connected with our club.
“We have had six-eight years when people haven’t spoken about Bradford in a very good light, but I think anyone who has been to this occasion will have seen how respectful and dignified everybody connected with the club has been.
“We have conducted ourselves correctly and I am pleased with the players and everybody connected with it.
“Doing things like this is what we need, so people start talking about Bradford in a positive light,” he added.