Rob Burrow: Rugby league’s biggest little man who quickly became an inspiration

When we think of a rugby league player, what usually comes to mind? A player of an immense physical presence who stands out amongst the crowd perhaps, arms the size of the pythons and shoulders as wide as a county? That is usually what comes to mind.

However, there are those players that completely broke the mould in terms of what it meant to be a star at the highest level of the game and one that that stood out above the rest will always be Burrow. A talent who may not have possessed the size and appearance of most players but was able to prove many doubters wrong by completely undermining his size and stature with with his speed, technique, skill and adaptability.

The rugby league world came together recently though as the Leeds legend announced his unfortunate battle with Motor Neurone Disease before Christmas last year. But what followed showed how close knit the rugby league family is because an incredible level of support from fans far and wide was shown in a phenomenal show of respect for one of rugby league’s greatest servants. Now, in tribute to one of the game’s biggest stars, we take an in depth look at the exceptional career of one of league’s biggest little men.

Born in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, Burrow made his professional debut for the Rhinos back in 2001 and quickly made his presence known with seven tries in 18 appearances for the club.

Although the early part of his career was without silverware, that all changed over the course of the 2004 Super League season. After becoming the first team since the league’s change of format in 1996 to accumulate 50 points in a regular season, Burrow and his Leeds side were able to claim revenge on rivals Bradford in the Grand Final after a slip up to the Bulls earlier on in the play-offs. At the age of 22, Burrow came off the interchange bench to help his side claim their first Super League crown and their first league honour since 1972.

The win would be just the start of Leeds’ rise to dominance throughout the next 15 years as Burrow and a host of talent that included Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Jamie Peacock would come rising to the surface as the pinnacle of the British game.

The 2007 season saw the energetic half-back put forth one of his best seasons to date as he was voted the club’s Player of the Year and went on to be the star of the show in that year’s Grand Final and he claimed his first of two Harry Sunderland Trophies after pulling all the strings in a dominant win over St Helens.

After several shining seasons with Leeds, Burrow saw his first call-up to the Great Britain squad in a test match against France in 2007 before announcing himself fully on the international stage in the test series against New Zealand where he was one of the stars of the show as he finished as the top points scorer with 26.

After claiming their second Super League crown in 2007, Leeds’ formidability was only just beginning as they went on to claim another two in 2008 and 2009, with Burrow once again showing his impeccable skill, versatility and eye for the try-line. Between 2001 and 2009, his stats showed exactly how creative and durable a talent he was, making 242 Super League appearances and scoring 107 tries in the process.

As the sport entered a new decade, their impeccable run would only continue. After missing out in 2010, the Blue and Amber came roaring back with consecutive Super League wins in 2011 and 2012, with Burrow a key figure throughout due to his tenacity and slick running seeing him claim 22 tries in 54 appearances over the two seasons. A second Harry Sunderland Trophy came in 2011 in Leeds’ Grand Final win over St Helens. It was a display headlined by one of the most memorable Grand Final tries as Burrow produced a moment of magic to duck and weave his way through the Saints defence to score an incredible solo try and one still highly spoken of today.

Until 2014, the only thing that had alluded Burrow and his Rhinos side was the Challenge Cup – a title that the West Yorkshire club had failed to win since 1999 and their Cup final record in recent times did not make for great reading either. However, the 2014 season saw that curse finally broken as Leeds saw off Castleford in that year’s final to put an end to the curse.

A highly accomplished career would come full circle in 2015 as a remarkable decade of rugby league for Leeds saw Burrow and his side become the sixth side to claim the elusive treble and only the third club to do so since the inception of Super League.

The Super League legend capped off a remarkable 16-year run fittingly by securing his eighth Super League title in 2017 as a Leeds side containing so much big game experience overcame the odds to beat a highly dominant Castleford outfit.

By the end of his career in 2017, Burrow had scored 198 tries in 494 appearances along with securing eight Super League titles, two Challenge Cup crowns and three World Club Challenges, making him one of the country’s most accomplished players.

Although not your typical rugby player in terms of appearance, Burrow was still able to carve out a career that will live in the memory of not just Leeds fans but rugby league fans around the globe.

Like Clive Churchill during the 1950s in Australia, Burrow proved exactly why he was one of the sport’s biggest little men with his technique, flair and all-round knowledge of the game. The little genius was a trailblazer and he has gone on to be an inspiration for so many. He stands as one of the defining characters in the history of the sport. Not many can say they have done it all at club level.

Certainly the word ‘legend’ gets thrown around quite a bit when it comes to sport but for Burrow, there is no doubt that he is exactly that.

And with his current battle with MND, there is no question that the realms of rugby league stand behind one of its toughest and most exceptional competitors.

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