Danny McGuire shares memories of 30-year friendship with Rob Burrow ahead of emotional Headingley night

Ross Heppenstall

Much has been made of Rob Burrow’s unbreakable bond with Kevin Sinfield, and rightly so, but his connection with Danny McGuire goes even deeper.

From childhood rivals to then team-mates who helped Leeds Rhinos win eight Super League Grand Finals, Burrow and McGuire became Headingley greats together.

McGuire will be at Leeds’ famous home on Friday night alongside a huge host of ex-Rhinos stars as they raise a glass to celebrate the life of a much-loved friend and former team-mate.

Burrow died on June 2 aged 41 after a four-and-a-half-year battle with Motor Neurone Disease. “The relationship Rob and I had started long before our professional careers begun,” McGuire, now serving as Castleford Tigers assistant coach, told Love Rugby League.

“We played with and against each other from the age of 10 in all the representative teams growing up. We had some good battles between Leeds Schools and Castleford Schools so our careers and lives were mirrored.

“We went on all the Academy and Schoolboy tours together so it’s crazy how similar our journeys were.”

Towards the end of 2019, Burrow was given his devastating diagnosis and the news understandably hit his close friend McGuire hard.

“We were going up to Cumbria to do a few dinners and Rob had been for some tests – I picked him up from the hospital in Bingley and remember it like it was yesterday,” recalled McGuire.

“I was just trying to be positive and reassure him that everything would be okay. We spent the weekend in Whitehaven and I went to Australia, having just finished playing, and it was then that I heard the terrible news of Rob’s diagnosis.”

McGuire quickly became part of a group of former team-mates who rallied round Burrow to support him.

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In January 2020, Headingley was packed to the rafters when McGuire, Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai, amongst others, turned out for Leeds with Burrow against Bradford Bulls.

The match was a benefit game for Burrow and a testimonial for fellow club legend Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

“That game, and everything else that has been done since then, particularly all the fundraising that Kev has done, is testament to the person that Rob was,” said 41-year-old McGuire.

“Rob’s story, and the tenacity he showed on a rugby league field and following his MND diagnosis, means he’s now recognised and appreciated around the entire UK and the world to a certain extent.

“For me on Friday night, it’s more of a celebration of his life and everything he achieved.

“I will remember all the good times and great moments we shared before his illness. I’m looking forward to it because everyone I’ve spoken to wants to be there to appreciate what Rob brought to the game and to Leeds Rhinos.

“There will definitely be some tears from a lot of people but I think there are 70 or 80 of our former team-mates and staff who are getting together for a beer before the game to celebrate Rob’s life.

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“The match itself is a sidenote to everything that’s going to happen to pay tribute to Rob.”

McGuire and many other former members of Leeds’ all-conquering side supported Burrow closely during the past four and a half years with regular visits to his family home.

“Most of the time, there were five, six or seven of us and it was almost like being in the changing room together again,” he explained. “I went with Barrie Mac and he was amazing with Rob.

“Rob would take the mick out of Baz and he was always interested in how my coaching was going.

“I’ve said it before, but Rob’s best quality was his selflessness and he always put the team first, sometimes to the detriment of his own performance.

“At the back end of his career, he moved positions and was all about doing a job for the team. That selflessness stayed with Rob until the end and, even though it was tough to see him suffering, he always had a smile on his face and his family were amazing.

“Irene and Geoff, his mum and dad, always had the coffee and biscuits out for everyone and we all know how amazing Lindsey has been.

“Rob had support from all his team-mates and friends, but his family are incredibly special too.”

On Friday night at Headingley, McGuire will fondly remember his time in the blue and amber jersey alongside Burrow.

From winning the club’s seminal first title in 32 years in 2004 to bowing out as champions in the 2017 Grand Final victory over Castleford.

“We did everything together and then played our last-ever game for Leeds together against Cas, Rob’s local team, and the club I’m now coaching at,” said McGuire.

“That Grand Final win in 2017 was pretty crazy and I remember daydreaming that Rob and I would lift the trophy together.

“I never said anything to Rob because I didn’t want to tempt fate, but there’s a clip where you can see me grabbing him and us lifting the trophy together.

“I was captain but I remember thinking ‘Rob deserves it just as much as I do’. To be able to share that honour, now knowing what he went through after it, makes it even more special. It was one of the highlights of my career.”

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